N.J. crash scene too dangerous for close inspection

HOBOKEN, N.J. — Three days after an NJ Transit train barreled into the platform at Hoboken Terminal, federal investigators said they were still stymied Saturday by destruction at the site, making it impossible for officials to enter the train and look for clues for the cause of the deadly crash.

The problem is the roof of the open-air train shed at the terminal, which collapsed during the accident and was still resting on top of the train Saturday evening, according to a statement by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The roof may be filled with cancer-causing asbestos, and was in danger of further collapse, making the scene too dangerous for investigators to get close.

In its news release Saturday, the NTSB said that one of the train’s event recorders, also called the black box, and the video camera — both located inside the front car, where the engineer stood to pilot the train — remain unretrieved in the train, under the collapsed roof of the shed.

A second data recorder, pulled from the locomotive at the back of the train, has arrived at the Kentucky headquarters of its manufacturer.

Retrieving data from that recorder — regarding the train's speed, brake use and other critical factors — may prove tricky, however. The safety board has reported that initial attempts to access the data had been unsuccessful and on Saturday said its staff members are "supervising the attempted download" of information.

Investigators also pursued other avenues. They interviewed Thomas Gallagher, who has been identified as the engineer on train 1614, which was completing a run along the agency’s Pascack Valley line. Those conversations continue, and the board said it will not release any details until the interviews are complete.

Investigators also obtained video recordings from other NJ Transit trains that were parked in the station at the time of the crash. They found no problems with the signals near the station, and an inspection of the tracks around the Hoboken train yard and station "found nothing that would have affected the performance of the train," according to the agency.

The scene in Hoboken was mostly quiet Saturday afternoon. Beyond helicopter footage of the collapsed train shed roof, little could be seen of the accident site because of plastic tarps hung on both sides of the train. A glimpse down a corridor revealed that a glass canopy destroyed by the accident was still resting on the pedestrian walkway.

Outside, the cobblestone street of Hudson Place was filled with white NJ Transit Police vehicles. A block away, a small scrum of television satellite trucks sat with their engines running. A New York Police Department helicopter hovered over the wreckage for a few minutes, and then flew off.

Schedules for NJ Transit remain affected by the crash. While trains into New York Penn Station will continue operating on normal schedules, all trains on the Main, Bergen, Pascack Valley and Port Jervis lines will run on weekend schedules until further notice, according to a service alert by NJ Transit. They also will start and end at Secaucus Junction instead of Hoboken.

The agency warns that passengers may see more overcrowding and delays than normal because of the crash and continued recovery operations, which will keep Hoboken Terminal closed for the foreseeable future.

Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Christopher Maag on Twitter: @Chris_Maag


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