A New Jersey Transit commuter train crashed into Hoboken Terminal during rush hour Thursday morning, killing one person and injuring more than 100 at one of the busiest transportation hubs in the Northeast.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said 114 people were hurt, including the train’s operator, who was critically injured. He said the engineer was cooperating with the investigation.
“This train came at a high rate of speed into the station and crashed through all the barriers, bringing it all the way to the internal wall of the Hoboken terminal,” Christie said. He added that officials would not speculate on the cause of the crash. “We have no indication that this was anything but a tragic accident.”
Accountant Jim Finan was sitting toward the rear of the first car when he realized the train was coming in much too fast.
“We were getting to the platform, but we were still at full speed,” Finan, 42, said. “The train didn’t slow down at all…The only thing that stopped the train is the fact that it slammed into the building.”
The scene was horrendous. People were bleeding profusely from cuts to their head, he said, and one man seemed to be holding his severed thumb in place. Others had cuts on their hands. Finan pulled off the rubber around an emergency-exit window and another man pushed the window out. They both helped two women crawl out of the train before NJ Transit workers began opening the doors.
Christie lauded the resilience of northeast residents, who have weathered a succession of natural disasters and rail accidents in recent years and, most recently, a bombing in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood that injured 31.
“Regular commuters left the safety of where they were standing, to rush to the train, to help first responders evacuate injured people off the train,” Christie said of the Hoboken crash. “This region has developed a resilience that is admired by the rest of the world because of the way we’ve been tested.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo described the devastation at the afternoon news conference.
“When you see the destruction up close, the silver lining is that there’s only been one fatality so far,” Cuomo said. “Because the destruction is significant. And the power of train coming in is obviously devastating in its impact.”
The New Jersey State Medical Examiner identified the crash victim as Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, 34, of Hoboken. Christie said she was killed by debris created by the crash.
“I pray the number doesn’t go up,” said state Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D), who represents Hoboken. “We’re just praying for those affected. And we’re praying that the death toll doesn’t increase.”
The crash, Christie said, appeared to be accidental in nature.
At about 8:45 a.m., a Pascack Valley Line train, which was traveling from Spring Valley, N.Y., crashed into Hoboken Terminal, according to New Jersey Transit.
Most of the people injured in the crash were in the first car or standing on the platform; passengers in the other cars were better able to escape, according to WABC.
New Jersey Transit said some passengers were trapped under the debris, though Christie said late Thursday morning that all of those people had been removed and transported to hospitals.
“My train just derailed and crashed into the Hoboken train station,” one passenger wrote. “Thankfully all I got was a crack to my head, please pray for the rest.”
Emergency responders flooded the area and were seen treating some people outside the station in Hoboken, a major suburb of New York City.
An official with the Jersey City Medical Center said that none of the people brought to that facility appeared to have life-threatening injuries, but he said that some of the people brought there had serious wounds.
Most of the people brought to the medical center from Hoboken were injured on the train, he said during a briefing outside the hospital. Some patients with injuries such as lacerations were quickly released from the hospital to free up space for others who were injured.
Hoboken University Medical Center officials said at a midday news conference that the facility was treating 20 patients, mostly for lacerations and bruises. All were in stable condition.
The Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have dispatched investigation teams, and New Jersey’s attorney general is also investigating the crash.
The FBI office in Newark said it has been in touch with law enforcement officials and had offered its assistance in responding to the crash. The New Jersey State Police also sent troopers to the scene, which it said was being managed by the New Jersey Transit agency.
Officials, including those at the NTSB, did not immediately speculate on what caused the crash. But transportation officials, rather than law enforcement authorities, took the initial lead in the investigation, suggesting that terrorism was not immediately suspected.
At a press conference at Reagan National Airport, NTSB Vice Chairwoman Bella Dinh-Zarr said investigators will examine similarities between this and a similar crash in May 2011 involving a PATH train, among other issues.
Train 1614 struck the building on Track 5, NJ Transit said. The train came to a halt in a covered area between the station’s indoor waiting area and the platform, according to the Associated Press, which noted that a metal structure covering the area collapsed.
“It simply did not stop,” WFAN anchor John Minko, who witnessed the crash, told 1010 WINS. “It went right through the barriers and into the reception area.”
Mukherji, the assemblyman, said the crash caused “major structural damage” to the terminal; by late morning, engineers were evaluating the building’s structural integrity.
One passenger, Bhagyesh Shah, told NBC New York that he was standing near the back of the train when it started “plowing through the platform.”
“It was for a couple seconds, but it felt like an eternity,” he said.
Shah told the station that the first two cars were packed with passengers; after the crash, he said, people started breaking windows to escape.
“I saw a woman pinned under concrete,” he said. “A lot of people were bleeding; one guy was crying.”
Another passenger, Joe Breen, said the train had just passed through a tunnel and had stopped before it started up again.
“It was going, I’d speculate, 10 to 15 miles per hour into the station, and it never slowed down,” Breen told CBS News. “It rammed into the barrier and basically kept going.”
Breen said passengers who had been standing in the aisle, preparing to get off, “kind of flew back,” with some hitting their heads.
Rail service has been suspended in and out of Hoboken.
An average of 60,000 people travel every weekday through Hoboken Terminal, which is the fifth-busiest station in the New Jersey Transit system. In addition to New Jersey Transit, the station also serves trains from Metro-North, the Port Authority Trans Hudson, and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system, along with New York Waterway ferries.
The terminal is the end of the line for New Jersey Transit’s Pascack Valley route, so trains are supposed to slow down as they enter the busy railyard; they then proceed into the station, coming to a stop before the concrete barrier at the end of the platform.
One question that will be on the minds of investigators, federal transportation officials and lawmakers: Whether the crash could have been prevented by positive train control, a federally-mandated technology system that is designed to prevent collisions or derailments. The technology can automatically apply the brakes to trains if they are moving too fast while traveling into a station. The NTSB’s Dinh-Zarr said investigators will look at whether the lack of positive train control was a factor.
Rail systems around the country, including New Jersey Transit, had been legally required to install the technology on their systems by last December — but they were given an eleventh-hour reprieve by Congress, which voted to extend the deadline for the life-saving technology by another three years.
This is a developing story. Stay tuned for updates.
Katherine Shaver, Ashley Halsey III and Lori Aratani contributed to this report.