Train engineer ‘has no memory’ of deadly Hoboken crash, NTSB says
HOBOKEN — The engineer behind the controls of last week's fatal train wreck told investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board that the train was running about six minutes late, but he was only going about 10 miles per hour and doesn't remember the crash.
NTSB Vice Chairwoman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr said during a press briefing Sunday that the engineer told investigators that as he approached Track 5 in Hoboken Terminal, he glanced at the speedometer, and was only going about 10 miles per hour. He said the train was operating normally, visibility was clear and he was able to successfully perform the required brake test prior to departure, Dinh-Zarr said. He said he blew the train's horn and rang the bell, but has no recollection of the incident beyond that point.
"The engineer says he has no memory of the accident. He remembers waking up on the floor of the cab," said Dinh-Zarr, who also said the engineer claimed he felt well-rested when he arrived at 6:45 a.m. and that his cell phone was turned off and stored in his personal backpack inside the cab.
Dinh-Zarr said NTSB track investigators calculated the degree of the curve leading into the terminal and determined that it could have supported speeds up to 43 miles per hour, although the operating rule is 30 miles per hour for that area. She said investigators were able to duplicate the route that the train took Thursday morning, but they didn't find any "signal anomalies for the signal system leading to terminal."
According to the NTSB, the engineer — who was identified by NJ Transit as Thomas Gallagher, 48, but has not been identified by the NTSB — began working for NJ Transit in 1987 as a ticket collector and became a qualified engineer in 2000.
Investigators also learned that the train was pulling four cars instead of five, so there was a lot of overcrowding and the conductor, who was also interviewed, was unable to collect tickets. He told interviewers that he didn't notice anything strange about the speed of the train as it approached, but he was also focused on the crowds of people aboard the train.
During Sunday's press conference, Dinh-Zarr also said the train's event data recorder was recovered from the rear of the train by investigators, but they learned that it wasn't working when the crash occurred.
"Unfortunately, the event recorder was not functioning during this trip," she said, adding that it's an older recorder and "it's likely that it's a newer event data recorder in the lead passenger car, the controlling car, so we're hopeful that will have information that will be functioning."
Only the train's lead car is required to have a working event data recorder, according to NTSB Investigator-in-Charge Jim Southworth.
As the investigation continues, Dinh-Zarr said, the NTSB will will also be reviewing other types of video recordings that could also help them to more accurately determine the exact speed of the train, including videos from nearby trains. She said a drone and a laser scanner were both used in the investigation to photograph the crash scene and create 3-D images of the train cars.
Dinh-Zarr said during the briefing that demolition on the site is expected to continue around the clock until it's completed, since each piece of the scene has to be investigated and moved methodically to minimize the damage to the accident scene and "preserve the evidence" that still must be reviewed.
Watch the full press briefing from Sunday below:
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.