It had seemed like a typical rush-hour commute on the Pascack Valley Line — until the New Jersey Transit train barreled into the station on Track 5 on Thursday morning.
The train crashed into one of the busiest transportation hubs in the Northeast, derailing cars, causing the station ceiling to collapse and leaving one woman dead and more than 100 people injured.
“It didn’t slow down,” Nancy Bido, a passenger in the first car, told NBC New York. “It didn’t brake.”
“We were getting to the platform, but we were still at full speed,” passenger Jim Finan told The Washington Post. “The train didn’t slow down at all. … The only thing that stopped the train is the fact that it slammed into the building.”
Passenger Bhagyesh Shah told NBC New York that the train went “plowing through the platform.”
The impact lasted for a couple of seconds, Shah said, “but it felt like an eternity.”
Witnesses described a chaotic scene: Bloodied passengers escaping through the train’s windows, joining others on the platform in fleeing the terminal, which look like it had been struck by a bomb.
Exposed wires were hanging from the ceiling, witnesses said, and water and debris were raining down.
“There were just people all over … a lot of injuries,” Tom Spina, who said he had been in the station’s customer service office, told CBS News.
“I saw a woman pinned under concrete,” Shah told NBC New York. “A lot of people were bleeding; one guy was crying.”
Finan said he saw people bleeding profusely from cuts to their heads, and one man seemed to be holding a severed thumb in place.
“I probably spent the entire morning in shock,” he said from his Manhattan office Thursday afternoon. He had a sore neck and back, as if he’d been in a car accident. “After the shock wears off, it hits you more.”
Finan, a 42-year-old accountant, said he was half-asleep in a window seat on his daily ride from River Edge, N.J., when he noticed the Hoboken station platform out the window.
The packed, standing-room-only train usually stopped briefly before pulling into the station.
But not Thursday.
Finan heard a loud “boom” and felt the train hit a barrier; people who had been standing in the aisle, he said, were thrown forward from their feet.
He used both hands to grab the handle on the top of the seat in front of him and braced for what was to come next.
“For 30 to 40 seconds, you knew the train wasn’t on any tracks,” he said. “We were just bouncing as we went across the concourse.”
Screams filled the car, along with a loud rumble as the train broke through the concrete wall.
“It was scary,” he said. “As it was happening and the train was off the tracks, I remember thinking, ‘I hope we don’t flip over.’”
Another passenger, Ross Bauer, told the Associated Press that “there was an abrupt stop and a big jolt that threw people out of their seats.”
There was a loud noise — “like an explosion” — Bauer said, and then: “I heard panicked screams, and everyone was stunned.”
Jamie Weatherhead-Saul, who was standing near the front, said she toppled onto other passengers.
“I don’t remember any screeching,” she told CBS News. “There could have been but, in that moment, when you’re trying to help injured people or, like, when we felt the train slamming or sliding into the station, we just wanted to make sure that everyone that we could help was standing on their feet or that we could get them out of harm’s way.”
She said someone was able to open the doors manually and the passengers hurried out.
Many who were injured were riding in the first car or standing on the platform; passengers in the other cars were better able to escape either manually opening the doors or breaking emergency windows, according to ABC affiliate WABC.
“My train just derailed and crashed into the Hoboken train station,” one passenger wrote on Twitter. “Thankfully all I got was a crack to my head, please pray for the rest.”
Those watching from outside said they heard what sounded like an explosion and then people spilled out of the station.
An N.J. Transit worker told CNN that the train ran over a bumper block, knocking passengers from their feet, before coming to a halt at a waiting room wall.
Brian Klein, whose train got to the station after the crash, told the Wall Street Journal that transit police first told passengers on his train to go to the waiting room, “then quickly started yelling, ‘Just get out, we don’t know if the building is going to hold.'”
Shawn Reyes, a contractor who was working nearby, said he heard a “big rumble sound” and was told it was a train crash.
“I was entering the building downstairs and then next thing I know I hear a big rumble sound, like, doo doo doo doo doo, and then I look back, I see smoke coming out of a building up here, I see people running across the street,” he told NJ.com.
“I thought it was a bomb at first, to be honest,” Reyes added. “But, after I was told there was a train crash, it kinda made sense because it was — it sounded like rumbles. Just compacting so it kinda makes sense that the train ran into the wall.”
Alex Moaba and his wife, Lori, were on a train that pulled into the terminal minutes after the crash, before emergency personnel had arrived.
He said part of the ceiling was dangling near Track 5, on the other end of the station — the first indication that something had gone wrong.
“We were just piecing together what had happened,” he said. “I thought to myself maybe a display board had fallen. I looked a little closer and saw that a train was literally in the middle the station, off the tracks.”
It appeared the train’s front cars had overshot the tracks, he said.
“A couple cars, maybe, were up on the platform, and there was debris and fuselage surrounding it,” he said. “And there was kind of like some twisted metal, it looked like, as well. And it was kind of eerily quiet and calm.”
He described a scene of confusion as N.J. Transit workers tried to clear the area. Moaba and his wife proceeded to try to take a ferry to Manhattan, but the lines were too long, and power briefly went out.
Outside the station, he said, injured passengers sought help from bystanders.
“I counted five people who were either sitting or laying on the ground — some had bloody legs, bloody faces,” he said.
At 9:03 a.m., about 20 minutes after the crash, Moaba texted his mother.
“Train crashed in Hoboken station,” he wrote. “We are ok, but looks bad.”