NTSB documents put Hoboken crash engineer on the spot

RELATED TOPICS: NJ TRANSIT | EAST | DERAILMENTS/WRECKS | SAFETY
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09292016NJTHoboken2bJMCalisi
Law enforcement officials walk toward the former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western terminal in Hoboken, N.J., in September 2016.
Joseph M. Calisi
WASHINGTON — A raft of official documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board has thrown the spotlight back on the engineer involved in last year's Hoboken Terminal crash in New Jersey. An NJ Transit train crashed through a bumper post and wound up on the passenger platform during the morning rush hour on Sept. 29, 2016. A woman on the platform died and 114 others were injured, including the engineer.

The paperwork, consisting of more than 1,000 pages of documents, train event data and video recordings, have cast doubts on what 17-year veteran engineer Thomas Gallagher told investigators after the September 2016 accident, the first NJ Transit fatal accident in over 20 years.

In one instance, Engineer Thomas Gallagher told NTSB investigators that he had sounded the locomotive’s horn as required at each of 60 road crossings he met when driving the train, an average of two a mile over the 31-mile run. This was contradicted by train event data and a forward-facing video camera which showed that Gallagher had on 17 instances been late starting his horn sequence or began it after the train had already reached the crossing and once passing a crossing without horn or bell sounding. His train passed a work zone adjacent to the track with no warning horn or bell. Federal Railroad Administration rules require engineers to sound the horn at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, ahead of every public road crossing.

Two months before the crash, the documents reveal that Gallagher was supposed to be screened for severe obstructive sleep apnea, which can cause daytime fatigue and drowsiness, in his 2016 annual company physical but investigators could not find any evidence that he had been screened.

The documents’ release also raises concerns about Gallagher’s state of mind the morning of the crash as an acquaintance told investigators that the engineer had confided to him that an unspecified workplace issue had upset him and he was not paying attention to his job.

The train's event recorder showed the train was traveling 8 mph as Gallagher sounded the horn and bell on entering the station. However, the throttle was moved from idle to the fourth position, increasing the train's speed to 21 mph, while the emergency brakes were activated. When investigators asked him why he was throttling and braking at the same time, he replied: “I can’t recall. I wish I could. I can't.”

An NJ Transit spokeswoman declined to comment because the investigation is ongoing.

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