This past Thursday, a New Jersey Transit commuter train crashed in Hoboken Terminal, killing one woman and injuring at least 100 others, including the conductor. In addition to being leaderless and underfunded, a recent federal investigation has revealed that NJ Transit has had more than 150 accidents over the past five years.
The Associated Press reports that NJ Transit's history of accidents over the past five years has resulted in more than $4.8 million in damage to tracks and equipment, and the state's transit authority has paid more than $500,000 to settle safety violations. This data does not include the figures for this year, which are not yet available.
Since 2011, NJ Transit settled 183 safety violations ranging from employee drug and alcohol use to violations of railroad operating uses and practices. The Federal Railroad Administration began an audit of the transit authority in June after noticing an increase in rail incidents—inspectors found more than a dozen violations in 2014 and 2015 alone. According to the report, there were 25 accidents and 10 in the first seven months of this year, none of which were fatal or caused any injuries. Most of the accidents occurred at low speeds and more than half were in train yards.
Despite NJ Transit's high volume of accidents, the fatal crash that occurred in Hoboken this week is particularly egregious. Passengers on the train said nothing seemed unusual until the moment of the crash, when the lights went out and the train flew into the station.
Fabiola Bittar, who was standing on the platform when the train barreled into the terminal, died after part of the ceiling collapsed onto her. Bittar was the only fatality, and more than 100 others were injured as a result of the crash.
The train's engineer, Thomas Gallagher, has been interviewed by the National Transportation Safety Board and has no record of having prior medical problems, criminal history, or other infractions. Gallagher was among those injured during the accident.
On Saturday, the NTSB announced that track signals leading to Hoboken Terminal seem to be working normally and that they were unable to find anything that would have affected the performance of the train. Signs posted at an NJ Transit maintenance facility in Hoboken said there had been 10 incidents involving trains between December 2015 and this February, and that the main cause of the incidents was human error. Samples of Gallagher's blood and urine have been sent to a toxicology lab for examination.
The NTSB also retrieved an event recorder from the locomotive at the rear of the train which contains speed and braking information. They have been unable to extract a second recorder from the train's forward-facing camera because it is stuck under a collapsed section of the terminal's roof. Investigators are concerned the crash may have released asbestos in the 109-year-old building.
In response to the crash, Chris Christie announced on Friday that New Jersey's gas tax—which funds the state's depleted Transportation Trust Fund—will increase by 23 cents, its first hike since 1988.