Thursday morning, during the rush hour peak, a New Jersey commuter train plowed full speed into the Hoboken terminal, injuring 114 people. Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, 34, of Hoboken, was killed by falling debris while waiting on the platform for the train’s arrival. She was the only fatality.
Witnesses said the train hurtled through the designated stopping point, slammed into a bumper block, went airborne and drove through a passenger concourse at approximately 8:45 a.m.
Bhagyesh Shah, who was riding in the back of the front car on his way to work, said the train didn’t seem to slow as it entered the station. He further stated, “[t]he next thing I know, I’m on the floor. We are plowing through something … and when the train came to a stop, I could see the parts of the roof on the first car and some of the debris next to me.”
Many emergency workers spent the morning shuttling in and out of the station, carrying the injured on stretchers to ambulances outside. Federal investigators later began examining the wreckage.
According to the New Jersey Transit, they are the “third largest provider of bus, rail and light rail transit in the nation.” Roughly 15,100 people travel through the Hoboken station each weekday. Hoboken, the last stop on the line it serves, lies on the Hudson’s west bank across from New York City. Its station is used by many commuters traveling into Manhattan from New Jersey and other outlying areas.
Although train accidents happen every day throughout the United States, the Hoboken crash was the latest in a string of fatal train crashes in the United States. One of the most significant in recent years occurred in May of 2015, when an Amtrak train crashed in Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring more than 200.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis, in 2015, there were more than 1,912 train accidents that resulted in more than 547 injuries and 13 deaths. Human error caused 39.4% of those accidents, while 27.4% were caused by defects in the track and 13.6% were caused by motor or electrical equipment issues. As of July 31 of this year, there have been 880 train accidents in the United States.
There has been wide speculation as to how this tragic accident occurred and how it could have been prevented. People have taken to Twitter to suggest that it was a terror attack, though Chris Christie quickly put those worries to rest in his statements, saying, “[w]e 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.”
Federal lawmakers have made noise indicating that if the train had had positive train control — a system which combines GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains and stop them from striking other trains, derailing or speeding– the accident on Thursday could have been avoided.
New Jersey Transit currently has an older safety system, but has not yet installed positive train control. Congress had originally required the newer safety system to be installed by the end of 2015, but extended the deadline to the end of 2018. Bella Dinh-Zarr, vice chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters that part of the focus of her agency’s investigation will be on positive train control and whether it could have prevented the crash.
Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo advised people to allow investigators to do their job before jumping to conclusions. He said in a statement regarding the possibility of avoidance that it was “speculation…and until we know the cause of the accident, we’re not going to be able to know what steps we can take in the future to avoid an accident like this.”