The National Corridors Initiative Logo

Sept 30, 2016
Vol. 16 No. 39

Copyright © 2016
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 16th Newsletter Year

 Destination:Freedom 

A Weekly North American Transportation Update For Transportation
Advocates, Professionals, Journalists, And Elected Or Appointed Officials,
At All Levels Of Government.

Publisher
James P. RePass, Sr.
Editor
Molly N. McKay
Foreign Editor
David Beale
Contributing Editor
David Peter Alan
Managing Editor / Webmaster
Dennis Kirkpatrick
 
 

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IN THIS EDITION...   In This Edition...

  Editorial …
 
Preventing Rail Tragedies
 
  Transit Lines …
Speeding Train Crashes Into Historic
   Hoboken Terminal, With A Fatality
   And More Than 100 Injuries

   
  Publication Notes …


 

Destination: Freedom - EXTRA - Special Edition
Friday, September 30, 2016


EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

Preventing Rail Tragedies

By James P. RePass Sr.
Publisher, Destination: Freedom
and, Chairman, President, and CEO,
The National Corridors Initiative
Founded 1989


The search for the cause, or causes of Thursday’s tragic commuter rail accident at Hoboken is intensifying, as Destination: Freedom publishes a special extra edition this week to cover the story.

We have endeavored in this edition as we always do, to be precisely accurate in reporting the story, and in commenting upon it. The news media is as always invited to quote D:F as it sees fit, or its writers; all that we ask is that we be given credit.

This is now the third major passenger rail accident involving fatalities in three years in the United States. There have also been several major, sometimes fatal, freight rail accidents. And while each and every accident is one too many, the facts uncovered and the recommendations made as each accident is investigated, while critical to rail safety, should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the United States for political reasons has failed to invest adequately in available systems that could have and would have presented some, if not all, of these accidents.

Positive Train Control (PTC) is the term for a set of technologies that can intervene and take over control of a moving train, under certain specific conditions that trigger its intervention. Among other things, if a train is proceeding at a higher speed than those set for track conditions, PTC can over-ride the engineer’s controls and apply the brakes. Various iterations of this technology have been around for more than a decade, and it is presently being implemented across the country’s rail network on freight and passenger railroads, although not as quickly as it should be.

Under the present schedule, as allowed by Congress in a 2015 bill delaying implementation, it could take still take until 2020, four more years --- five years behind the original December 31, 2015 deadline set by Congress in earlier legislation.

The delay was allowed because the Congress refused to fund the program in 2008, making it an unfunded mandate that would have cost the freight railroads, Amtrak, and commuter agencies $5 billion or more that they simply did not have. Congress mandated this, for example, even as it was once again cutting Amtrak’s budget request.

We believe it is incumbent upon Congress, as dysfunctional as it has been, to step up and fund PTC installation now, as it should have in the first place, not simply mandate it. What is more, it needs to make funding available on a permanent basis, as PTC technology involves and improves, and older iterations need to be replaced. At the same time Congress needs to create a permanent transportation trust fund for passenger rail systems, as exists already for highway systems.

Irrespective of whether that technology would have prevented the Hoboken accident  – we will know soon enough about that --- the issue is that the safety of the public must come first, and the duty of Congress is, at a very basic level, to protect the safety of the American people. It has failed to do so, when it comes to rail safety, and rail investment in general, and needs to overcome the poisonous ideological angst that has paralyzed the national political debate for more than a decade. Now would be a good time to start.


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TRANSIT LINES... Transit Lines...  

Speeding Train Crashes Into Historic Hoboken Terminal,
With A Fatality And More Than 100 Injuries

Rail Service Suspended At Hoboken, But Recovers Quickly Elsewhere

By David Peter Alan

New Jersey Transit’s historic Hoboken Terminal was damaged on Thursday morning by an incoming train that was speeding as it entered the station.  The accident occurred at 8:48, according to NJT.  Train #1614 on the Pascack Valley Line (PVL) left Spring Valley at 7:23 and was due into Hoboken at 8:38.  It does not appear that the station building was severely damaged, but a portion of the roof over the train shed collapsed, killing at least one person, injuring more than 108 and disrupting rail service.  

NJT announced at 9:31 that all rail service to and from Hoboken had been suspended.  That included several of NJT’s rail lines, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line and PATH (Port-Authority Trans-Hudson) trains to New York City.  PATH trains, which are operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and not by NJ Transit, operate from an underground station.  The entrances to the PATH station are located near Track 1 at Hoboken, the furthest from the water.  The terminal has 18 tracks for NJT trains, while the light rail line uses new tracks beyond Track 18, closer to the water.  The train that crashed into the station came in on Track 5.  There are several NJT bus lines that serve Hoboken, and buses on those lines were diverted to City Hall, three blocks from the terminal.

Image

Two Photos:  Brian Farnham

With debris strewn about, you can barely discern the front end of Train 1614 in the upper right of the image, its characteristic red body stripe can be seen through the fallen sections of the roofing.

Image

Persons that had been on the platforms awaiting trains are ushered out of the station.

As of 12:00 noon, it was reported that the NJT web site was not advising customers on how to get around the Hoboken outage.  The “Trip Planner” feature on the NJT web site was still not operational at 1:15, and the agency had not issued a news release at that time.  Shortly after that time, NJT began operating PVL trains between Spring Valley and Secaucus.  Main-Bergen and Montclair-Boonton Line trains that normally run to or from Hoboken were operating west of Secaucus, as well.  Some Morris & Essex, Montclair and Gladstone trains normally run to Hoboken, and those ran only as far as Broad Street Station in Newark.  Trains on those and other lines that run to Penn Station, New York were not affected.  

On the New York side, Metro-North ran buses to cover the stations within New York State on the Port Jervis Line and the PVL.  Customers going to those points were advised to take Hudson Line trains from Grand Central Terminal and change at Tarrytown or Beacon for buses to their destinations.  

Image

Image:  Unknown Contributor

Just beyond emergency workers and under the debris is Train 1614.  The train jumped the bumper at the end of the track and continued onto the platform, tearing down roof supports in the process.

Early photos from the scene showed that part of the roof of the train shed collapsed as the front end of the first car of the train had come to a halt near the passenger waiting room.  An interior photo of the corner of the waiting room and ticket office near Track 5 indicated that both were intact.  Hoboken Terminal is a historic structure and a strong one, built of stone by the Lackawanna Railroad in 1907.  It is the last of the old waterfront terminals in New Jersey.  The Pennsylvania, Erie and Jersey Central Railroads also had them, but they were abandoned in the 1950s and 60s, when ferry service to New York was also discontinued.  Today, ferries again operate to and from Hoboken Terminal, and ferries continued to operate on Thursday, after all rail service was suspended.

As of 4:00, there was one reported fatality; a woman who was on the platform.  There were also 108 injuries reported at that time; some of them critical, including the engineer who drove the train.

At that time, the cause of the accident was unknown, although witnesses were quoted as saying that the train was running at a high rate of speed, and it appeared to them that the brakes had not been applied.  Trains usually go about thirty miles per hour (about 48 km/h) as they come out of the Bergen Hill Tunnels and onto terminal tracks.  At that time, they should be running at “restricted speed” which, according to Lackawanna Coalition Vice-Chair Stephen E. Thorpe, means sufficiently slowly that a train can come to a stop within a distance measured as half its length.  For a six-car train, that would mean about 250 feet or 80 meters.  Clearly, Train #1614 did not stop within that distance last Thursday.

The train’s exact speed is unknown, and probably will not be determined until investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conduct the necessary investigations.  According to reports from the scene, the train was traveling fast enough to hit the concrete bumper block at the end of the track and rise into the air.  Under that circumstance, it could have knocked some support posts off line, which caused parts of the roof of the train shed to collapse.

This is the third major passenger rail accident in the country in the past three years, all of which involved speeding trains.  In December, 2013, a Metro-North train heading toward Grand Central in New York City crashed at Spuyten Duyvil, in the North Bronx, killing four people.  In May, 2015, Amtrak Train #188 from Washington, D.C. crashed north of Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring most of the passengers on the train.  One of the criticisms leveled at Amtrak in the aftermath of that wreck is that there was no adequate system for slowing the train down to the speed limit or stopping it.  Positive Train Control (PTC), a system for stopping the train in case of an emergency, had not yet been installed in the northbound direction at the point of impact.

D:F Publisher James P. RePass is a strong advocate for PTC, but he told this writer that he is not sure if PTC would have prevented the damage caused by last Thursday’s accident.  Even with PTC throwing a train into emergency mode and stopping it as quickly as possible, it still requires some distance for the train to come to a complete stop.  Unlike the other wrecks, Thursday’s accident occurred on terminal track at the end of the line, rather than along the train’s route.  

[ Editor’s Note:  For a description of Positive Train Control (PTC) please see this detailed description and analysis at:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_train_control ]

Although it is expected that Hoboken Terminal will be out of service for some time, NJT and other providers began to establish service for their Hoboken customers relatively quickly.  A PVL commuter told this writer that she was able to catch a train from Anderson Street Station in Hackensck on schedule at 2:07 pm.  Main-Bergen Line, Montclair-Boonton Line and PVL trains that normally originate and terminate at Hoboken ran only to and from Secaucus Junction Station, where riders could connect with trains to and from New York Penn Station, which were not affected.  NJT ran shuttle buses between Secaucus and a temporary bus facility at Hoboken City Hall.  Morris & Essex, Montclair and Gladstone trains that normally run to and from Hoboken ran as far as Broad Street Station in Newark.  NJT also augmented service on the #126 bus, which runs between Hoboken and Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York.

Metro-North, which oversees trains which NJT operates to and from Port Jervis and PVL trains when they stop at stations within New York State, encouraged customers to take Hudson Line trains to Tarrytown or Beacon, where they connected with special shuttle buses to points on those lines.  The PATH station at Hoboken is located underground, and service to that station was restored by 4:15 on Thursday afternoon.  By that time, NJT and Metro-North had already established their substitute services, so most commuters could get home after the close of business on Thursday.  

NJT announced its plans for Friday at about 9:00 on Thursday evening.  Service continued to recover, with light rail service to Hoboken resuming.  That meant that PATH trains would operate at one end of the station, while light rail would operate at the other end, but no NJT trains would serve the historic Hoboken Terminal yet.

It appeared that, without being able to use Hoboken as a terminal, NJT wanted to minimize the number of trains it operated on lines that customarily serve Hoboken, while still providing service.  Service on the lines running north from Hoboken and using the lower level at Secaucus (lines that ran on the historic Erie Railroad) was limited on Thursday, and NJT said it would continue to be limited on Friday.  The NJT bulletin stated: “Main, Bergen, Pascack Valley and Port Jervis lines will continue to
operate on a modified weekend schedule originating/terminating in Secaucus.”  

The Montclair-Boonton Line runs a full service day to Montclair State University on weekdays, with some trains originating at Hoboken and others at Penn Station, New York.  During peak-commuting hours, some trains originate at Hoboken and run past Montclair State, to Dover.  With Hoboken out of service, NJT said these peak-hour trains would run as shuttles: “There will be limited rail shuttle service on the Montclair-Boonton Line west of Montclair State University.”  Some trains from Hoboken on the Morris & Essex Line operate west of Dover, toward Hackettstown.  Those trains would run as shuttles, as well.  Gladstone Branch trains normally operate between Hoboken and Gladstone on weekdays, but as a shuttle between Summit and Gladstone on week-ends.  NJT announced that, on Friday, a week-end-style shuttle would operate, with the two through trains from Penn Station operating on their regular schedules.  There were also extra shuttle buses to Secaucus and extra buses on the #126 route between Hoboken and Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City.

While not an ideal schedule for commuters or other riders, NJT was prepared to provide service on every line normally serving Hoboken Terminal.  On the whole, NJT did well in setting up a schedule that would provide service, although it was not their standard level of peak-hour or mid-day service.

The recovery pattern bears some resemblance to the restoration of service after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, although recovery from the ravages of that storm took several months.  NJT restored service gradually, as resources became available.  Perhaps NJT is using the playbook that it developed while recovering from Sandy.  Ironically, the high tides caused by Sandy flooded the Hoboken Terminal building and contaminated it with mold.  It was closed for several months for remediation and repairs.  Now it is closed again, although there is reason to hope that it is structurally intact, and that only minor repairs will be needed.  If that is true, it should open again soon.  It will probably take longer to repair the roof over the train shed, which collapsed on Thursday morning.  It is likely that, at least, a few tracks will remain out of service until the roof is completely repaired.  Fortunately, Hoboken Terminal has sufficient capacity that NJT can operate most or all of the current schedule with the tracks that were not affected.

At this writing, nobody knows the cause of the accident.  There is no suspicion of foul play, but human error and mechanical failure remain possible causes.  Maybe the engineer was temporarily incapacitated, as it appears the engineers in the Metro-North accident and the wreck of Amtrak #188 were.  Maybe the brakes failed as #1614 was coming into Hoboken.  It will probably be some time before investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NSTB) have the answers.

In the meantime, riders and NJT managers may think about Hoboken Terminal differently.  At one time, there had been talk that NJT wanted to abandon Hoboken, if managers could figure out how to turn trains at Secaucus.  Hoboken service has been declining steadily, as more trains have been diverted to New York over the past ten years.  Now, with Hoboken Terminal out of service, riders and managers alike may come to appreciate the historic waterfront terminal more than at any time in the past decade.

For more information on Hoboken or substitute service, see NJ Transit’s web site, www.njtransit.com.


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PUBLICATION NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2016 National Corridors Initiative, Inc. as a compilation work and original content. Permission is granted to reproduce content provided acknowledgements to NCI are given. Return links to the NCI web site are encouraged and appreciated. Color Name Logo Courtesy of Doug Alexander. Content reproduced by NCI remain the copyrights of the original publishers.

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