The NJ Transit commuter train that crashed inside the Hoboken terminal in September, killing one and injuring more than 100 others, had faulty brakes and multiple other safety defects in the months before the crash, maintenance records show.
In January, railroad inspectors found that a “hand brake gear pin” on one of the train cars was “completely out,” New York City’s Pix11 reported.
Three months later, inspectors found brake damage and at more than a dozen other safety defects. In April, another hand brake was found to be in disrepair.
Federal investigators are still working to determine why the Pascack Valley Line sped into the Hoboken terminal at more than twice the speed limit, so it’s not clear whether mechanical problems may have contributed to the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has long called for automatic speed limiters and brake systems on trains, but railroad companies have consistently fought proposed legislation mandating the safety technology.
“We know that it can prevent accidents,” NTSB vice chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr told USA Today, speaking of Positive Train Control (PTC) systems. “Whether it is involved in this accident, that is definitely one of the things that we will look at carefully.”
Another focus of the investigation is the fitness of the train’s engineer. Witnesses have told investigators that they saw him slumped over at the controls as the train rolled into the station.
Engineer Thomas Gallagher, 48, of Morris Plains, N.J., has been employed by NJ Transit for 19 years and has been driving trains with it for more than half that time. His reputation at work and his record are considered excellent, CBS News reported.
On Nov. 16, Mr. Gallagher’s lawyer told Reuters that a recent medical evaluation of his client found that he has severe sleep apnea, a condition that can cause bouts of extreme drowsiness and fatigue due to poor quality of sleep. His last physical exam was in July, but a NJ Transit doctor found him to be fit for duty at the time.
Mr. Gallagher has told NTSB investigators that he was fully rested on the morning of the crash but has no memory of it. He pulled the brakes one second before the train jumped the bumper block and careened across the station platform.