Image: A derailed New Jersey Transit train is seen under a collapsed roof after it derailed and crashed into the station in Hoboken, New Jersey, U.S. September 29, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
By Frank McGurty and Amy Tennery
HOBOKEN, N.J. (Reuters) – A commuter train ploughed into a station in New Jersey at the height of Thursday’s morning rush hour, killing a woman on the platform and injuring more than 100 people as it brought down part of the roof and scattered debris over the concourse.
Witnesses described terrifying scenes as the front of the train smashed through the track stop at high speed and into the Hoboken terminal, toppling support columns and creating chaos at one of the busiest transit hubs in the New York City area.
One woman from Hoboken died when she was struck by debris from the crash, said the city’s mayor, Dawn Zimmer. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told reporters that 108 people were injured.
The train’s engineer, or driver, was critically injured and taken to a hospital where he was cooperating fully with investigators, Christie said.
“We have no indication that this is anything other than a tragic accident but … we’re going to let the law enforcement professionals pursue the facts,” Christie said at a news conference in Hoboken alongside New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo said it was obvious the train came into the station too fast, but it was unclear why. The cause could be human error or technical failure, Cuomo said. He added that it was too early to say whether an anti-collision system known as positive train control (PTC) could have prevented the crash. PTC is designed to halt a train if the driver misses a stop signal and advocates cite it for helping to combat human error.
A couple of hundred emergency workers spent the morning shuttling in and out of the station, some carrying the injured on stretchers to ambulances outside. Federal investigators later began examining the wreckage.
Hoboken, the last stop on the lines it serves, lies on the Hudson River’s west bank across from New York City. Its station is used by many commuters travelling into Manhattan from New Jersey and further afield.
Linda Albelli, a 62-year-old from Closter, New Jersey, was sitting in one of the train’s rear cars and described how she had felt something was wrong a moment before the impact.
“I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, he’s not slowing up, and this is where we usually stop,'” Albelli said. “‘We’re going too fast,’ and with that there was this tremendous crash.”
As investigators searched for clues to the cause of the accident, some said it could and should have been prevented.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a Democrat on a senate committee that includes transportation matters, said the crash was “hauntingly similar” to past tragedies involving insufficient or unsafe practices or equipment. Blumenthal has advocated for the roll out of the anti-collision system.
“This catastrophe was caused by a runaway train – travelling too fast and out of control. There is no excuse,” Blumenthal said in a statement. He said there was an urgent need for better safety technology, new equipment and improved training.
The historic green-roofed Hoboken Station is served by NJ Transit commuter trains connecting much of New Jersey with the country’s largest city, as well as the Port Authority Trans-Hudson subway-like system known as PATH, a light rail service and ferry service to New York.
Train #1614 was on the Pascack Valley line, which goes through Northern Bergen County, and had originated at Spring Valley, New York. It was on track five when it hit the Hoboken terminal building at about 08:45 a.m. EDT (1245 GMT).
In May 2011, a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey train crashed at Hoboken station, injuring more than 30 people. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined excessive speed was the main cause of the accident.
An NTSB official said the agency would look at similarities between that one and Thursday’s crash.
The Hoboken crash was the latest in a string of fatal train crashes in the United States. The worst in recent years involved an Amtrak train that crashed in Philadelphia in May 2015, killing eight people and injuring more than 200.
(Reporting by Frank McGurty and Amy Tennery; Additional reporting by Laila Kearney, David Ingram and Joseph Ax in New York, Catherine Ngai in Jersey City, and Susan Heavey, Tim Ahmann and David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Grant McCool and Frances Kerry)
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