Transportation Industry Sources ‘Baffled’ At What Caused Deadly Hoboken Train Crash

HOBOKEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Federal investigators are trying to figure out the cause of the train crash at the Hoboken station, which killed one person, injured over 100 others and caused serious damage to the terminal Thursday.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the NJ TRANSIT train from Spring Valley, New York was traveling at a high rate of speed when the train — carrying 250 passengers — crashed through all of the barriers, slamming into the interior wall of the Hoboken Terminal around 8:45 a.m. Thursday.

NJ TRANSIT Train Crash: Photos | Videos | Transit Changes

“The train came in at much too high rate of speed, and the question is: ‘Why is that?”’ Christie said.

Fabiola Bittar de Kroon was killed when an NJ TRANSIT train crashed in Hoboken on Sept. 29, 2016. (credit: LinkedIn/Fabiola Bittar de Kroon)

Fabiola Bittar de Kroon was killed when an NJ TRANSIT train crashed in Hoboken on Sept. 29, 2016. (credit: LinkedIn/Fabiola Bittar de Kroon)

Witnesses said the train was moving at a high rate of speed when it failed to stop. As it entered the station, it continued beyond the tracks, sending the four cars crashing through a main concourse barrier, then launching airborne into the platform area, in a day that was unlike any other in the 109-year history of the Hoboken terminal.

A woman standing on the platform was struck by debris and killed, Christie said. The state medical examiner’s office identified her as a 34-year-old Hoboken resident named Fabiola Bittar de Kroon. She is a native of Brazil.

A total of 114 people were hurt, mostly on the train. Many are being treated at local hospitals, including 66 who were taken to Jersey City Medical Center and 23 taken to Hoboken University Medical Center. Carepoint Health Christ Hospital also reported treating one patient.

CBS2’s Sonia Rincon reports 13 people remain at Jersey City Medical Center in guarded condition with non-life-threatening injuries, and at least one of them had surgery. Fifty-three patients were treated and released from the hospital.

The hospital went into regional trauma center mode and sent doctors to the scene.

Seven patients remain at Hoboken University Medical Center in stable condition as 16 patients were released.

Sources in the transportation industry told CBS2’s Tony Aiello they are “baffled” and believe mechanical failure seems very unlikely. CBS2 has identified the engineer as 48-year-old Thomas Gallagher. He is a 19-year NJ TRANSIT employee, with ten years experience as an engineer.

Christie said the engineer operating the Pascack Valley Line train is cooperating with law enforcement officials in the investigation.

“We know what happened, we don’t know why it happened,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who canceled a trip to Israel for Shimon Peres’ funeral because of the crash.

“We’re going to work together to make sure that the investigation is seamless, and coordinated, that we come to a conclusion as quickly as possible and that if there are steps that need to be taken thereafter to provide for even greater assurance of safety for the people of our states, you can be sure that we’ll work together through the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the MTA and NJ TRANSIT to make sure that occurs,” Christie said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said they are unable to get to all the cars because it is not safe yet to comb through the entire scene.

“The canopy of the building is on top of the controlling car, and water has been leaking all day, so there may be some structural damage and weakness,” Vice Chairman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr said Thursday evening. “Additionally, because of the age of the building, there is the possibility of asbestos, so there are concerns about that as well. A contractor will be coming in to remove parts of the canopy.”

Dinh-Zarr said investigators are able to access the locomotive and will be able to pull the event recorder this evening. She stated that the engineer, who has been released from the hospital, was operating from the cab car, which is known as the controlling car.

“We’ve seen that it’s very unsafe there, there is potential structural damage. Fortunately the locomotive is not in the area,” she said, calling it a “chaotic” scene.

The speed limit going into the station is 10 miles per hour. Witnesses on board said the train didn’t slow down when it approached the station.

Investigators will be looking at the outward-facing cameras on the train.

Dinh-Zarr added they will look into whether positive train control was installed.

Dinh-Zarr said the NTSB will be looking at similarities between this crash and another that occurred at the station on Mother’s Day 2011 that left 30 people hurt when a PATH train crashed into bumpers at the end of the tracks.

They will also be looking at positive train control’s role in the crash. The safety system is designed to automatically slow or stop trains that are traveling too quickly.

“PTC has been one of our priorities, we know that it can prevent accidents, whether it is involved in this accident that is definitely one of the things we will look at carefully,” Dinh-Zarr said.

The NTSB will be on scene for seven to ten days and said it will be quite some time until they determine what caused the crash.

It’s still unclear what exactly caused the train to crash, but it left mangled metal, wires, concrete and other debris scattered all over the floor. Part of the ceiling also collapsed. A law enforcement source told CBS News that nothing has been ruled out as to a cause of the crash, but based on preliminary findings it appears to have been an accident — that the train derailed, causing it to strike the station.

“It simply did not stop,” WFAN sportscaster John Minko, who witnessed the crash, told 1010 WINS. “It went right through the barriers and into the reception area.”

He also told CBS2 that there was “mass confusion.”

“It was a mass scramble to get away from the scene,” he said.

Train passenger, Lauren Berlamaino, said she was sitting in the second car of the train when it crashed.

“We were pulling into the station, I was thinking we’re not stopping,” she told CBS2. “The next thing I know, my head went forward, I hit the seat and come back to and there was screaming.”

She said many passengers aboard the train were standing because there weren’t enough seats.

“When we got out, the first car was completely in the terminal, the roof had collapsed,” she said.

WEB EXTRA: Witnesses Describe Chaos In Hoboken

One woman was on the fourth car when the crash occurred.

“I felt the train car like it was off the track and then the impact occurred. I was stunned. I had no idea what the front of the train could look like. I mean I had never seen anything like this in my life. And when I saw the ceiling coming down and it crumpled and the passengers in the first car with the glass broken trying to get out, I knew this was more serious than I think NJ TRANSIT had ever had,” Amy Krulewitz said.

Krulewitz added that no one in her car were seriously injured and that she’s worried about taking the train again.

“I sure am. Tomorrow I’m not,” she said.

Michael Larson, a NJ TRANSIT worker, said people were kicking out windows trying to get out of the train.

“The second half of the first car was completely destroyed to where they were crawling on their hands and knees and we were trying to get as many people out,” he told WCBS 880. “I assisted in maybe three or four people getting out and then the first responders came and told me to exit.”

CBS Evening News executive producer Steve Capus described the makeshift triage area he saw shortly after arriving on the scene.

“There is a triage set up here where people who have been injured are being treated and evaluated,” he told 1010 WINS. “I can tell you there are scores of people here, many of them with bloodied shirts, clothing, head injuries — I saw one person with what appeared to be a broken leg. There are also bringing more severely injured people out on stretchers.”

CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reports Christie and Cuomo toured the scene, saying it appears the high rate of speed is the key factor in the massive damage.

“Obviously, it’s an extraordinary tragedy,” Cuomo said. “The destruction is really significant and the power of the train coming in is obviously devastating in its impact.”

The governors praised first responders, onlookers and anyone who came to the aid of the injured passengers. They said the train’s engineer is in critical condition, but is cooperating with law enforcement.

Both governors stressed the investigation would be lengthy and that it was too early to know why the train crashed.

“We’re not gonna speculate about the cause of the accident,” Christie said.

Christie stressed that there is only one priority that will determine when the station can reopen.

“When we determine that it’s safe we’ll reopen the building, but we won’t reopen it a minute earlier,” the New Jersey governor said.

NJ TRANSIT rail service remains suspended in and out of Hoboken. The agency will be expanding bus, rail and light rail services as much as possible to accommodate the closures at Hoboken. The agency has released a detailed plan for the afternoon commute.

PATH resumed full rush-hour train service at the station Thursday afternoon.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is also accommodating passengers.

Click here for a full list of changes.

NJ TRANSIT said anyone with questions or looking for information about the crash can call 855-336-1774.

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