Expert: Inexcusable NJ TRANSIT Event Recorder Wasn’t Working Day Of Crash

HOBOKEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The National Transportation Safety Board says it’s still hoping that a second data recorder from last week’s NJ TRANSIT train crash in Hoboken was functioning as experts said it was inexcusable that the first event recorder they recovered wasn’t working.

As commuters got back to the Monday grind, crews at the Hoboken terminal continued demolition, working to get closer to the second data recorder buried beneath debris.

“Yea it’s a little bit frustrating,” said commuter Melissa Vignone. “I feel sorry for the people, for the innocent people who just want answers.”

“I’d rather they take their time and figure out what’s going on,” said commuter Patrice Jones. “If you really want to  figure it what happened, I don’t think anything is going anywhere. Get it right.”

Investigators haven’t been able to extract a second data recorder, located in the cab control car in the front of the train, because it is under a collapsed section of the train station’s roof.

“The beams look like a dangerous version of pick-up sticks,” NTSB vice chair T. Bella Dinh-Zarr said Sunday. “We’ve all played that game of pick-up sticks and if you incorrectly pull out one stick, it affects integrity of the other sticks.”

Investigators were hoping that another data recorder, which was recovered from the rear locomotive of the train, would give them information about the train’s speed and braking but they said the device wasn’t working.

“It’s likely that it’s a newer event data recorder in the lead passenger car, the controlling car, so we’re hopeful that will have information that will be functioning,” Dinh-Zarr said. “We’ll just hope that the front event data recorder was working.”

Railroad experts told CBS2’s Christine Sloan that it’s inexcusable that the event recorder wasn’t functioning.

“If they’re trying to say that it’s not required, it wasn’t required to be in service, that’s baloney,” expert Richard Beall said.

Beall added that NJ TRANSIT maintenance should’ve been checking the so-called black boxes. He said the fact that one wasn’t working is a serious violation.

“It should be on a daily basis,” Beall said. “It’s real simple. All you gotta do is plug a laptop computer into the event recorder and it’ll tell you if it’s working or not.”

Officials said they hoped to be able to gain access to the front of the train in the coming days.

Federal regulations require commuter trains to have a working recorder in the lead car, according to Jim Southworth, the NTSB’s lead investigator for the crash.

The regulations also require the recorders to be inspected every year. It was unclear when the recorders in the train were last inspected.

NJ TRANSIT had safety issues long before Thursday’s accident, according to a so- called “deep audit” conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration in June, which revealed “dozens of safety violations” since 2011, CBS2’s Janelle Burrell reported.

Meanwhile, the train’s engineer, Thomas Gallagher, told investigators that he was fully rested and that the train was operating properly Thursday morning before it crashed into the Hoboken Terminal.

“He said he looked at his watch and noticed that his train was about six minutes late arriving at Hoboken,” Dinh-Zarr said. “He said that when he checked the speedometer, he was operating at 10 miles per hour.”

But Gallagher told the investigators that he had no memory of the crash and only remembered waking up on the floor of the engineer’s cab, she said.

“He remembers waking up on the floor of the cab,” Dinh-Zarr said.

Democratic Assemblyman John McKeon said federal railroad officials should release any safety violations NJ TRANSIT may have. NJ TRANSIT has not returned CBS2’s calls.

Killed in the crash was Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, 34, who had paused her legal career, leaving the software company SAP in Brazil after her husband got a job with an international liquor company. More than 100 others were injured.

The signals on the tracks leading to the train terminal appeared to working normally and officials who performed a walking inspection of the track found nothing that would have affected the train’s performance, the NTSB said.

Investigators also obtained video from other trains in the station, but found nothing of value, Dinh-Zarr told reporters.

NJ TRANSIT service in and out Hoboken remains suspended. Cross honoring with PATH, ferries, NJ TRANSIT bus and private carriers will continue until further notice.

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(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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