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Investigations, Changes Likely In Wake of NJ Transit Train Crash

The recent NJ Transit train crash at the Hoboken terminal is unlikely to have escaped the attention of anyone in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or throughout the northeast. The crash occurred on NJ Transit’s Pascack Valley line after the train apparently failed to slow as it approached the station. The train would end up slamming into the end of the line rail bumper at roughly 8:45 a.m. The crash caused the partial collapse of part of the train station and resulted in more than 100 injuries and one death.  

An ongoing investigation into the cause of NJ Transit train crashes has been slowed by one faulty data recorder in the rear of the train.  Federal law requires commuter trains to be equipped with a data recorder in the front car, but investigators are still working to remove debris to access it. Investigators believe the recorder in the lead car was functioning properly at the time of the accident. However, certain details regarding the train accident and NJ Transit’s response have already begun to emerge. If you or someone you know were injured in a train accident and are seeking compensation or legal counsel, a Pennsylvania train accident lawyer of The Reiff Law Firm is prepared to help.

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NJ Transit was Already under Federal Railroad Administration Investigation Prior to the Crash

One of the more troubling revelations to come to light only after the Hoboken train crash is the fact that NJ Transit has been under audit by the Federal Railroad Administration since June 2016. Federal Railroad Administration reportedly launched the audit after investigators noticed a spike in accidents involving the railroad. The audit of the rail operations turned up a number of safety violations. Reports have characterized the results of the audit as detecting “dozens of safety violations.” According to reports, from 2011 to 2015, the railroad has settled 183 safety violations ranging from detected drug or alcohol use by employees to violations of railroad rules and safety standards.

According to publicly available federal data, since 2011, NJ Transit has been involved in at least 150 reported train accidents. Many of these accidents occurred at low speed in rail yards and thus did not produce significant injuries. However, they have produced nearly $5 million in damage to the rail network.

Perhaps one of the most troubling aspects of this crash is that NJ Transit management seemed aware that incidents had reached unacceptable levels. News reports indicate that signs were posted at a New Jersey Transit maintenance facility in Hoboken in February 2016 at least implying that the number of accidents was unacceptable. The signs reportedly stated that five derailments and 10 total incidents had impacted trains in the previous two months. It further stated that the “serious incidents reflect[ed] a dangerous trend” that could be attributed to human error.

NJ Transit Makes Changes to Conductor Responsibilities

One major change in railroad policy announced by NJ Transit involves the responsibilities of conductors onboard trains bound for Hoboken and other similar stations. According to news reports describing a recently released memo from NJ Transit, train conductors will now be required to ride in the same car as the engineer of the train for trains approaching Hoboken or Atlantic City. The goal of this new policy seems to hinge on the assumption that two sets of eyes are better than one set. Under this new policy, the conductor will assist the engineer in identifying any signals or conditions that would affect the operation of the train.

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However, some rail safety advocates are questioning the value of this new policy. Some even suggest that it may make trains less safe. Many concerned parties, including a representative for a conductor’s union, seem to reason that most trains run with approximately two conductors responsible for handling about 10 train cars – five cars each. If one of the conductors is required to ride with the engineer, that leaves one worker to cover any questions or situations that may arise in any of the ten cars. Does this approach really make commuters safer?

Others who question the value of this policy cite the fact that conductors have not been properly instructed on what to do if conductors speed, fail to heed signals, or take other unsafe actions. Still others point to a 1996 train crash outside of Washington D.C. where investigators concluded that the engineer was distracted by a conversation with a colleague. That accident killed 11 commuters. Some safety experts believe that this policy actually increases the risk of engineer distraction.

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