HOBOKEN, N.J. (AP) — The engineer at the controls of the train that smashed into a commuter rail terminal, killing a woman and injuring more than 100 people, told federal investigators he was going only 10 mph as he approached the station but has no memory of the crash, federal investigators said.
The statements from the engineer, Thomas Gallagher, came as investigators learned that an event data recorder that was supposed to record the New Jersey Transit train’s speed and braking information wasn’t functioning, according to the National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chair T. Bella Dinh-Zarr. 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 station’s roof.
“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 at a Sunday news conference. “We’ll just hope that the front event data recorder was working.”
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.
Federal officials said the recorder was an older device installed in 1995. An unknown number have had to be replaced over the years as they failed.
Gallagher told investigators that he was fully rested and that the train was operating properly Thursday morning before it crashed in Hoboken. Killed 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.
The 48-year-old train engineer told federal investigators that he remembered blowing the train’s horn and looking at the speedometer as he pulled into the station and said the train was going 10 mph, Dinh-Zarr said. 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.
Officials said they hoped to be able to gain access to the front of the train in the coming days.
The signals on the tracks leading to the train terminal appeared to working normally and officials have so far found no track problem 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.
Months before Thursday’s deadly train crash, federal rail officials found dozens of violations during an audit that focused on NJ Transit’s safety and operations, a U.S. official told The Associated Press.
The official, who was familiar with the Federal Railroad Administration audit, wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
The audit was launched after the federal regulatory agency noticed an uptick in rail incidents and found “dozens of safety violations” that needed to be fixed immediately, the official said. The commuter rail agency was fined as a result.
A spokesman for NJ Transit hasn’t responded to requests for comment.
On Monday, Democratic Assemblyman John McKeon called on federal and state railroad officials to give a public accounting of safety violations.
“It’s very disturbing to learn that a data recorder pulled from the crashed NJ Transit train in Hoboken wasn’t working. This is inexcusable,” he said.
Since 2011, NJ Transit trains have been involved in more than 150 accidents that caused more than $4.8 million in damage to tracks or equipment and has paid more than $500,000 to settle safety violations, according to federal data.
Information from the Federal Railroad Administration shows that NJ Transit has settled 183 safety violations — ranging from employee drug and alcohol use to violations of railroad operating rules or practices — since Jan. 1, 2011.
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