NJ Transit wreck might hold key lessons


It’s going to take a full and careful accounting to determine what caused Thursday morning’s train crash at the Hoboken Terminal, and to help us understand how to prevent future incidents.

A 34-year-old woman on the platform was killed and more than 100 people were injured when a New Jersey Transit train smashed into the historic station at high speed around 8:45 a.m. It’s unclear whether human or mechanical error was to blame.

We do know that commuters in the station rushed toward danger to help injured people escape from the damaged train, their kindness and courage a bright spot in a dark tragedy. Thankfully, the crash occurred at the end of the morning rush hour, or there would have been more people on the platform when the train barreled through a concrete barrier.

A train engineer waiting at the station told reporters he never heard the sound of brakes. In a news conference, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that when federal investigators come up with recommendations, officials will follow through on them. Hopefully, that will be the case this time. It has not always been in the past.

One of the recommendations after a Metro-North Railroad crash in the Bronx in 2013 and an Amtrak crash in Philadelphia in 2015 was that railroads adopt a system known as positive train control, which can stop a train when it detects a human or systems error. Cuomo allowed that the system “could be a benefit,” though it wasn’t immediately clear whether it would have prevented this incident.

Congress mandated such a system in 2009 for passenger services, demanding it be installed by 2015, but the technology is expensive and railroads have repeatedly won delays in the implementation. The deadline now is 2018. If it turns out such a system could have helped here, the delays must stop and the technology must be installed.

Unpreventable deaths are a tragedy, but preventable deaths are inexcusable.

 

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