A gray morning turned into a grim calamity for commuters and Hobokenites Thursday. People at Hoboken Station witnessed NJ Transit train No. 1614 barrel into the terminal, blast through the barriers and stop only after it went through the wall.
Trains entering a station are supposed to slow to 10 mph. But this train originating in Spring Valley, New York, arrived at its final Hoboken stop around 8:30 a.m. at a much greater, still-unknown speed.
The train came in with an ear-drum piercing shriek “like nails on a chalkboard” said Matt Thompson, 25, who was swiping through the turnstile when it happened. The shriek was followed by a boom, and then “a deafening silence.”
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What Thompson, a recent transplant from Florida, saw next shook him for hours. A cloud of dust came up from the platform along with people screeching and running towards him, some scrambling on their hands and knees up the stairs.
Most of the injuries happened inside the train where people were knocked against the walls and floor. Streams of blood covered their faces and hands. The train’s conductor, Thomas Gallagher, 48, was found hunched over the controls.
Linda Albelli, 62, said she was sitting in her seat in one of the rear cars when the train approached the station. She said she knew something was wrong a moment before the impact.
"I thought to myself, 'Oh my god, he's not slowing up, and this is where we're usually stop,'" Albelli said. "'We're going too fast,' and with that there was this tremendous crash."
Live wires, steal beams and water rained over the platform.
Norfolk Southern train engineer William Blaine said he was getting coffee when he heard what sounded like a bomb exploding.
The ceiling, or “canopy” of the station collapsed. Falling debris killed Hoboken resident Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, 34, who was standing on the platform. At least 108 people suffered injuries ranging from minor scrapes to life-threatening traumas, officials said.
Following the incident, many have questioned whether the train had a safety feature called Positive Train Control, or PTC, which would automatically stop a train if it was going to derail or crash. But it’s not yet known if the train had it—or if it would have prevented this particular accident.
National Transportation Safety Board’s Vice Chairman Cahir Bella Dinh-Zarr, speaking at a news conference indicated that the NTSB had recommended installing PTC for several years.
She noted similarities between this incident and when a Port Authority train crashed at Hoboken Station in 2011 that injured more than 30, that was also traveling at an excessive speed.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said it was “a tragedy for our city.”
"As the mayor of Hoboken and knowing it is a Hoboken resident we lost today, one loss is too many loses," she said. "We didn't lose anyone in (Superstorm) Sandy, so this is heartbreaking for Hoboken."