NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — More than 100 people were hurt Wednesday when a Long Island Rail Road train hit a bumping block at the end of a track at Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate the incident, which happened around 8:15 a.m. Wednesday as Train No. 2817 from Far Rockaway was pulling into the terminal on Track 6.
The NTSB team arrived in New York City by 6 p.m. and began examining the scene, according to NTSB investigator Jim Southworth. Wearing hard hats and vests, federal investigators were examining the train, the tracks, the signal system and had recovered the train’s event recorders late Wednesday.
Meanwhile, as CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported, exclusive photos provide a close look at the crash that turned a typical morning into pandemonium.
PHOTOS: LIRR Train Crash In Brooklyn
Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Tom Prendergast said the train went up and over the bumping block. It then crashed into an employee area on the platform.
Fire officials also said a piece of the rail pierced the bottom of the train.
“Obviously, the train is supposed to stop short of the bumping block,” Prendergast said. “It did not do that, so it’s one of things we will look at as part of investigation.”
Transit officials said the lead wheel assembly and one other axle derailed as a result of the impact.
The maximum speed permitted in the area just ahead of the bumping block that the train hit is limited to 5 mph, Southworth said.
Following the crash, the front train car was left with broken windows and a bent metal door, while elsewhere in the terminal, the bumping block was destroyed and a room for employees at the end of the track was crushed, CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported.
Southworth said it is too early to determine whether to call the damage “significant.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the train was moving slowly and added that it “wasn’t really a derailment.”
“The train hit the bumping block and when it hit the bumping block, the bumping block basically knocked it off the tracks,” he said.
A bumper at the end of the line is supposed to stay untouched, and the train is supposed to stop well before it.
The governor said authorities don’t yet know why the engineer failed to stop.
“What happened with the operator, we don’t know and obviously there will be an investigation to find out exactly what happened and why the operator didn’t stop the train before it hit the bumping block,” he said.
Southworth said the train’s engineer, assistant engineer and conductor will be interviewed by investigators.
“There is signal system that controls it going in, but once you get to the end, it’s the locomotive engineer’s responsibility and the train’s brakes have to work,” Prendergast said. “All of that will be looked at in the investigation.”
The engineer was taken to a hospital and checked out, and also underwent mandatory drug and alcohol testing with the Federal Railroad Administration, Southworth said. He did not know where the train crew was late Wednesday.
The NTSB investigation will focus on a number of aspects, including track operations, how the trains are run, mechanics such as power and equipment, signals, human performance, and event recorders and other data, Southworth said.
Ted Turpin, a senior NTSB investigator with more than 30 years’ experience, will lead up the NTSB investigation, Southworth said.
The NTSB investigation was expected to last three to seven days. Anyone with photos, video or pertinent information was asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
There were 430 passengers on board the train at the time of the crash. Officials said 104 people suffered non-life threatening injuries.
At the scene, people were seen nursing bumps, bruises and bloody noses. Some people were carried away on stretchers while others were loaded onto FDNY buses.
“The people right in front of me all fell down like dominoes. They were all like piled on top of each other,” said David Spier of Cedarhurst, Long Island. Spier’s back was bothering him as he returned to the Atlantic Terminal for the Wednesday evening commute.
Some described a large jolt that sent people flying.
“It was no warning of any sort,” said passenger David Feit. “It just ran through the end of the line.”
“I just have no idea why he didn’t stop,” Spier added.
The sudden jolt came as most passengers were on their feet to exit the morning train when it violently overshot its stop.
“I was getting up from my seat and there was a loud impact and I flew forward and then flew backward,” a passenger named Amanda told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell. “It was total chaos, there was smoke on the train and you know, we were just like sitting there in shock.”
“We were pulling into the station in what appeared to be its regular speed and suddenly there was a jolt and a jump up. I was sitting at the time, jumped out of my seat and then back down and up again,” Feit told CBS2’s Magdalena Doris.
“It was a sudden impact,” another passenger told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck. “We were just seconds away from stopping. How could we crash coming into the station when we’re just seconds away from stopping?”
Emergency service officials said many people were able to get off the train on their own, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported. Cuomo said the most serious injury was a possible broken leg.
“A broken leg is not good, but we’ve been through situations where we’ve had worse,” he said.
One of the fire chiefs who aided the victims told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond they were fortunate the injuries weren’t more severe.
One worker also said late Wednesday that the incident could easily have been a disaster situation, and it was a blessing that nobody was seriously injured or even killed.
On the Hempstead Line during the evening rush, the train was crowded despite the Wednesday morning incident. Five of the six tracks were up and running during the Wednesday evening rush.
Commuters said they had no choice but to take the LIRR and take everything in stride, CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco reported.
Commuters said overall, they felt safe. But they were looking for answers, and hoped the LIRR would take the proper steps to ensure such an incident does not happen again.
“I still feel safe on the trains, but obviously, it’s something that, because I never think about something like that happening to me, but it’s a little bit scary, of course,” said Clifford Hartnett of Floral Park.
Given reports that the engineer did not stop upon pulling into the terminal, Hartnett added, “I think obviously, he should be paying attention and there should be some more controls in place, but I never thought about it before, and obviously, it’s a little bit worrisome.”
Meanwhile, as CBS2’s Carrasco reported. The NTSB could not comment late Wednesday on the train’s computer systems experts wonder if technology called Positive Train Control — or PTC — could have made a difference and prevented the train from smashing into the station.
“PTC would have brought the train into whatever speed limit was set for that platform. It doesn’t allow over-speeding,” said transportation safety expert Carl Berkowitz. “Let’s say the station speed is 5 mph. PTC would not allow the train to go over that speed.”
PTC relies on GPS satellites, radio towers and ground sensors to monitor a train’s speed and location. If it detects a train is going too fast or being operated unsafely — onboard computers kick in to slow or stop it.
But railroad engineering expert Gus Ubaldi said Positive Train Control technology may not have helped prevent the crash.
“I don’t want people to think that positive train control is a magic bullet that will prevent all accidents,” Ubaldi said. “I’ve seen editorials that suggest two percent of all railroad accidents might be prevented by positive train control.”
Ubaldi said that a positive train control system can be configured in a variety of ways, including detecting if there’s excessive speed at a certain point. But even if it detects excessive speed, the train operator still has to act.
“It has to determine that you’re going that fast. It has to beep, it has to alert you. You have to take action, and if not, it will take action,” Ubaldi said. “This says to me that we have… why did he miss his mark? Was he distracted by something? Was he not qualified enough? New guy on the territory? This was maybe his first day coming in there? Was he properly trained?”
Berkowitz said in the meantime — more training could help cut down on any human error.
“People tend in types of jobs to forget basics of safety; to become complacent; become robotic in doing things,” Berkowitz said. “We have to be constantly reminded and retrained to be on our toes in terms of safety.”
PTC has been slow to implement. Nationwide, it is available on just 29 percent of passenger locomotives despite a 2018 federal deadline that will require all railroads have PTC.
The Wednesday derailment came at the heels of other recent train derailments and crashes in the Tri-State area over the last several months.
On Oct. 8, a passenger train collided with an LIRR work train, derailing half a mile east of the New Hype Park station. A total of 29 people were injured.
And on Sept. 29, a woman was killed and more than 100 injured when an NJ TRANSIT train hit the bumper and slammed into the Lackawanna station in Hoboken, going twice the speed limit.
This also was not the only time an LIRR train has derailed at the terminal. In September 1996, when the station was known as the Flatbush Avenue Terminal, a train – also from Far Rockaway – overshot the end of the tracks.
That train also slammed into the bumper block and front-landed on the platform. The crash happened at 4 a.m., with few people on board.
The conductor and a passenger were injured in the 1996 crash.