Train crashes into New Jersey station killing 1, injuring more than 100

An arriving New Jersey Transit train crashed through a barrier at the end of the track during morning rush hour on Thursday.
Train personnel survey the NJ Transit train that crashed in to the platform at the Hoboken Terminal on September 29, 2016 in Hoboken, New Jersey.   Pancho Bernasconi/Getty Images/AFP
Train personnel survey the NJ Transit train that crashed in to the platform at the Hoboken Terminal on September 29, 2016 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Pancho Bernasconi/Getty Images/AFP

HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY // At least one person was killed and more than 100 injured on Thursday when a rush-hour commuter train crashed through a barrier at a busy station near New York and lurched across the waiting area.

People pulled concrete off bleeding victims and passengers kicked out windows and crawled to safety amid crying and screaming after the arriving New Jersey Transit train ran off the end of its track. It apparently knocked out pillars as it ground to a halt in the covered waiting area, collapsing a section of the roof onto the first carriage.

“All of a sudden, there was an abrupt stop and a big jolt that threw people out of their seats. The lights went out, and we heard a loud crashing noise – like an explosion – that turned out to be the roof of the terminal,” said Ross Bauer, who was sitting in the third or fourth carriage when the train was pulling into the historic 109-year-old station for its final stop.

“I heard panicked screams, and everyone was stunned.”

New Jersey governor Chris Christie said a woman standing on the platform was killed by debris. A total of 108 others were injured, mostly on the train; 74 were hospitalised.

“The train came in at much too high rate of speed, and the question is: `Why is that?’,” Mr Christie said. New York governor Andrew Cuomo said investigators will determine whether the explanation was an equipment failure, an incapacitated train driver, or something else.

Mr Christie said the driver was in critical condition but co-operating with investigators.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators. Among other things, they will want to know what the operator was doing before the crash and whether the person was distracted, said Bob Chipkevich, who formerly headed the NTSB train crash investigations section.

None of NJ Transit’s trains are fully equipped with positive train control, a safety system designed to prevent accidents by automatically slowing or stopping trains that are going too fast. The industry is under government orders to install PTC, but the deadline has been repeatedly extended by regulators at the request of the railroads. The deadline is now the end of 2018.

“While we are just beginning to learn the cause of this crash, it appears that once again an accident was not prevented because the trains our commuters were riding lacked positive train control,” said New York representative Sean Patrick Maloney. “The longer we fail to prioritise investing in rail safety technology, the more innocent lives we put in jeopardy.”

But both Mr Cuomo and Mr Christie said that it is too soon to say whether such technology would have made a difference in this crash.

The Hoboken Terminal, which handles more than 50,000 train and bus riders daily, is just across the Hudson River from New York City. It is the final stop for several train lines and a transfer point for many commuters on their way to New York City. Many take ferries or commuter trains across the river to the city.

NJ Transit service was suspended in and out of Hoboken. Mr Christie said engineers were examining the station’s structural integrity and that it was too soon to say when it might reopen to NJ Transit trains.

William Blaine, an engineer for a company that runs freight trains, was inside the station when the train crashed and ran over to help. He walked over to the heavily damaged first car with a transit employee to check on the train’s driver and said he found him slumped over the controls.

The train had left Spring Valley, New York, at 7.23am and crashed at 8.45am, authorities said. NJ Transit spokeswoman Jennifer Nelson said she didn’t know how fast the train was going when it crashed through the concrete-and-steel bumper at the end of the line.

Jamie Weatherhead-Saul, who was standing at a door between the first and second carriages, said the train didn’t slow down as it entered the station. She said the impact hurled passengers against her. One woman got her leg caught between the doors before fellow riders managed to pull her up.

Bhagyesh Shah, another passenger, said the train was crowded, particularly the first two carriages, because they make for an easy exit into the Hoboken station. Passengers in the second carriage broke the emergency windows to get out.

“I saw a woman pinned under concrete,” Mr Shah said. “A lot of people were bleeding; one guy was crying.”

Brian Klein, whose train arrived at the station after the crash, told The Wall Street Journal that transit police ushered everyone aboard his train into a waiting room, “then quickly started yelling, `Just get out! We don’t know if the building is going to hold’.”

More than 100,000 people use NJ Transit trains to commute from New Jersey into New York City daily.

A crash at the same station on a commuter train injured more than 30 people in 2011. The train crashed into bumpers at the end of the tracks on a Sunday morning.

The Hoboken Terminal was built in 1907 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

* Associated Press

Published: September 29, 2016 04:00 AM

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