One person is dead, scores injured, an historic train station in shambles. And now a team of federal investigators must piece through the rubble to find out why an overcrowded train traveling way too fast slammed into one of the busiest transit terminals in the nation at the height of rush hour. NJTV News Correspondent Brenda Flanagan is at the Hoboken Terminal.
Flanagan: Mary Alice, we’re on the Hoboken waterfront and if you take a look behind me you can see that there are police vehicles and command center vehicles that are parked around the Hoboken Terminal as this investigation continues tonight. Now, I want to set the scene for you. We were here earlier. I want you to visualize this. It’s 8:45 a.m. and you’re a commuter on the Pascack Valley Line out of Rockland County. Now, this is the height of the rush hour, speeding into a train station that generally handles 15,000 commuters a day. These four cars are jam packed, it’s standing room only. And as you go into the terminal, the train is not slowing down.
“You know, I had realized, oh my God, the train didn’t stop. It just came through,” said eyewitness Tom Spina.
Eyewitnesses described it as a terrifying scene as the crowded commuter train barreled through safety barriers and tore across the terminal and hit the wall.
“I was watching the train literally fly through the air. It was such an explosion of concrete dust, electrical wires, water, it was just kind of blinding,” said eyewitness Michael Larson. “And the sound of metal beams falling and just metal crunching. It was just horrible.”
The collision crumpled the first car, buckled the century old building support pillars and collapsed part of the ceiling.
“When I came out, I just saw bodies all over the place and I ran over to try to help some people out [of] the train, but cops and a lot of New Jersey Transit employees ran in to help. And I stood there and just made sure everybody stayed out [of] the way because the ceiling was going to fall,” said eyewitness William Blaine.
Officials said falling debris killed one person on the train platform. The crash injured 108 passengers.
“They were moving things around to get folks to where they could get them out of the windows,” Spina said. “So people were in a daze, they didn’t know what they were doing, they’re walking and I’m seeing folks holding their heads and whatever.”
At a mid-afternoon news conference, officials said the engineer was critically injured but cooperating with the investigation.
“We’re not going to speculate about the cause of the accident. The fact is that we’re in the midst of an investigation. I was called by the White House today as well. They have not only dispatched the NTSB and the Federal Railway Administration, but also have pledged any resources that we need additionally to deal with the victims or to deal what’s happened here at the Hoboken Terminal,” said Gov. Chris Christie.
Flanagan: Now federal investigators are going to be looking into issues like conductor error or equipment malfunction, however Gov. Christie said at this point there is no indication that there is a sign of terrorism involved in this event. Officials have identified the victim, the fatality, as Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, age 34 of Hoboken. For now, the NJ Transit terminal remains closed, first for the investigation, but secondly because the structural damage is so severe. They do not know when they are going to reopen the terminal. Now people are going to be able to use bus service obviously in and out of Secaucus Junction particularly. And the PATH train is running. That portion of the terminal was not damaged, so PATH is running tonight. Brenda Flanagan reporting live from the scene. Back to you in the studio.
Mary Alice Williams: Brenda, stay with us for a minute. Might positive train control have made a difference today?
Flanagan: Gov. Christie was asked that question and he said he was going to refuse to speculate because there was no reason yet for the crash, it’s hard to tell, he said, whether that would have made a difference. However, Sens. [Cory] Booker and [Bob] Menendez were here earlier this afternoon. Both of them said that New Jersey Transit has no positive train control apparatus at all on its system. They thought it might have made a difference here. And that they said they were going to look into that.
Michael Hill: All right, Brenda Flanagan live for us. Thank you, Brenda.