During the morning rush hour on January 4, 2017, a Long Island Rail Road train arriving at the Brooklyn terminal crashed through a barrier at the end of the tracks. The crash injured more than 100 people.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) lead investigator Jim Southworth said officials would interview the train’s three-member crew, including the engineer, who was treated for minor injuries, Newsday reports. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “Thank God this was not a worse accident.”
Parker Waichman notes that this is the second LIRR crash in less than three months that involved passenger injuries. In October, a Long Island Rail Road train derailed near New Hyde Park. More than 30 people were injured, according to Newsday.
NTSB investigators retrieved the train’s event recorder, which should provide data on the train’s performance such as its speed and whether the brakes were applied. The information from the LIRR train’s recorder will be compared with video of the train pulling into the station. NTSB officials expect to be at the site for up to seven days. They ask eyewitnesses to email video of the crash. New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said the investigation will focus on “why the operator didn’t stop the train before it hit the bumping block.”
Newsday reports that at least 103 people were injured, but Gov. Cuomo noted that it is difficult to get an accurate count of how many people were hurt because many passengers left the scene. Injured passengers were taken to Brooklyn Hospital Center, New York Methodist Hospital and Kings County Hospital Center, but the number who required hospitalization was not immediately known. None of the injuries were considered life threatening. The governor thought the most serious injury was a broken leg, but the Brooklyn Hospital Center said the woman’s leg was not broken.
The six-car electric train left Far Rockaway, Queens, at 7:18 a.m., due at Atlantic Terminal at 8:11 a.m. According to LIRR, the train was carrying about 430 passengers. The train was traveling at a “fairly low rate of speed” when it pulled into Atlantic Terminal about 8:15 a.m. The train crashed through a bumper block at the end of the tracks and part of the front car derailed, Newsday reported. FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Dan Donoghue said the train’s wheels “lifted up” and the train crashed through “a small room in the area that was at the end of the track.” Donoghue said he believes the room was empty or that anyone in the room must have gotten out quickly. The room “sustained quite a bit of damage,” Donoghue said.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said most of the passengers were able to evacuate the train on their own. For those who needed help “it was very well-managed and very well-coordinated,” according to Newsday.
Passengers and others in the station posted photos and videos on social media showing the scene and passengers being treated by emergency responders.
Atlantic Terminal serves about 10,000 customers each weekday morning, making it the LIRR’s second-busiest western terminal, after Penn Station. Although the LIRR has signal technology in place to automatically control the trains’ speed, MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast said that as a train approaches the end of a line it would have been “primarily the locomotive engineer’s responsibility to stop the train.” Robert Halstead, a Syracuse-based railroad accident reconstruction expert and investigator, said he believes the investigation should focus on the train’s engineer, including whether distractions such as personal electronic devices or fatigue played a role in the crash. Halstead said investigators needed to look at the 72 hours before the crash to “see what his sleep-rest cycles were, when he went off-duty last time — to see if there’s any potential issue there,” Newsday reports.
Because of the design of Atlantic Terminal, arriving trains come to a stop facing a terminal building. Halstead says there is nothing inherently dangerous in that design but he noted that the train’s engineer must “successfully complete” braking to bring the train to a stop at the platform. The Hoboken, New Jersey station is of similar design. In late September, a New Jersey Transit train arriving in Hoboken failed to stop and crashed through concrete bumper blocks at the end of the line. One person was killed in that accident and more than 100 passengers were injured.
Investigators looking into the Jew Jersey accident determined that the engineer had undiagnosed sleep apnea. Federal railroad officials say engineer fatigue could increase the risk of train accidents. The LIRR began testing engineers for sleep apnea last year. U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer has called on federal transportation officials to review which railroad systems are testing engineers for sleep apnea and which are not, National Public Radio reports.
Technology to Control Train Speed
In May 2015, an Amtrak train headed from Washington, D.C. to New York City derailed and crashed near Philadelphia. Eight people were killed in the crash and more than 200 passengers and crew were injured. The train was traveling at 102 mph in a 50 mph zone of curved tracks when it derailed. The NTSB found that the engineer was distracted at the time of the crash by other radio transmissions. The accident could have been prevented by positive train control, a computerized system to regulate train speed, which was not installed on that section of track.
The Federal Railroad Administration says “PTC systems will improve railroad safety by significantly reducing the probability of collisions between trains, casualties to roadway workers and damage to their equipment, and over speed accidents.” The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has named PTC as one of its “most-wanted” initiatives for national transportation safety.
Legal Help for Those Injured in a Train Crash or Derailment
If you or someone you know has been injured in a train crash or derailment, you may be entitled to compensation. The personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP can provide a free, no obligation evaluation of a possible case. To reach the firm, fill out the contact form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).