NJ Transit to increase inspections after falling concrete hits trains
A week after falling concrete crashed into at least two passing New Jersey Transit trains, the agency plans to inspect its old retaining walls every month to try to prevent further damage and potential tragedy.
NJ Transit executive director Steve Santoro said Gladstone Branch passengers heard what turned out to be pieces of falling concrete banging into the sides of their trains last Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning in Summit.
“The wall dates back to 1902 and has been gradually deteriorating with age,” Santoro said, at a legislative oversight hearing Monday at the Statehouse. “A plan to repair the wall without suspending Gladstone service for an extended period of time has been in development.”
The affected trains had marks on their sides and endured damage to some rubber window gaskets. Service on the track next to the wall was suspended until last Thursday afternoon, while crews scaled all the loose concrete off that wall. By the end of October, NJT will design a plan to move a major track switch, then proceed to construction.
“Concrete coming off a retaining wall and hitting a train. It’s crazy,” said Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex.
“It is a serious matter. We will be inspecting that wall and other walls of that ilk every 30 days,” Santoro said. “It may take some time, but we need to be very diligent … in terms of making sure that that doesn’t happen again at that location or at other locations that are similar to that.”
The hearing was the latest in a series focused on NJ Transit. At the past hearing, a former agency executive cast doubt on whether the transit agency would get a train navigation safety technology, called positive train control, would be in place by the end of 2018, as required by federal law.
NJ Transit assistant executive director Eric Daleo said NJT in January altered its contract with Parsons Infrastructure Group to speed up the installation but that only 13 trains were operable by a June 30 reporting deadline, when 48 were promised.
“The recovery plan that we requested in August, that we received from Parsons that some month, and that we continue to work with Parsons, shows that Parsons intends to continue to meet the deadline,” Daleo said.
“NJ Transit has every expectation of meeting the federal implementation deadline,” Daleo said.
Friday is the first anniversary of a fatal train crash in Hoboken in which a train sped into Hoboken Terminal and went over the bumper block and airborne into the concourse. A woman on the platform was killed by debris, and 114 people were injured.
Santoro said that at the recommendation of a consultant who inspected the damage after the accident, NJ Transit is designing the installation of ‘sliding friction bumper blocks’ that better absorb energy in three of its rail stations.
“We are replacing not only the damaged bumper block but all of the bumper blocks at Hoboken Terminal and the Atlantic City rail terminal and the Meadowlands rail station,” Santoro said.
NJ Transit is also proceeding with sleep apnea tests for all its train engineers, a month after the Trump administration scrapped a plan to require it. The train engineer involved had sleep apnea, according to his lawyer, though it wasn’t diagnosed until after the accident.
“We believe this protocol is a necessary protocol for the safety of our customers and our employees,” Santoro said.
Santoro said 350 engineers have been screened so far and the other 20 will be the end of this month.
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