Train accident in NJ did not have working black-box

The train accident investigation that injured 100 people and killed three in New Jersey has reached an impasse. An event data recorder was installed in the New Jersey Transit train to record data in case of an accident. Like black boxes in airplanes, these recorders are expected to survive and save information in the event of a crash or fire.

The transit train in New Jersey was equipped with two such recorders, but the retrievable recorder has not functioned since July, according to investigators. The National Transportation Safety Board investigators say that the malfunction has nothing to do with the recent crash, and concern was expressed that the device’s failure is not a normal occurrence. Extensive damage to the car carrying the front-facing camera makes it impossible to retrieve at present.

How common is a Train Accident?

The Hoboken, New Jersey train accident joins a questionable set of other recent and deadly smash-ups in California. Both of these crashes involved human error. Both of these trains were transit, passenger-carriers taking people to work or home.

On January 25, 2005 a Metrolink train smashed into an abandoned SUV sitting on the tracks. The impact caused the train to derail, flip off of the tracks and crash into a freight train locomotive parked on another track nearby. The train accident sent 11 people to their deaths from the incredible force of impact. One hundred and eighty passengers were injured.

The recorder pulled from the wreckage of the terrible scene showed that the operator of the train, upon viewing the SUV on the tracks, waited 11-22 seconds before he applied the brakes.
Lawsuits claimed that the engineer, Bruce Gray, did not apply the brakes fast enough to avoid the impact.

Later it was revealed that the SUV causing the train accident was purposely left on the tracks by Juan Manuel Alvarez. He had wanted to commit suicide that fateful morning to make a strong statement to his estranged wife. He changed his mind, left the train on the tracks, and caused 11 people to lose their lives.

A Metrolink train crash in 2008 was described as “total destruction” by onlookers. Los Angeles City Fire Capt. John Virant described the scene as seats thrown everywhere and “dead bodies that are lying on top of survivors.”

The passenger train collided with a Union Pacific freight train on a sharp curve near Chatsworth, sending 17 persons to death upon the horrific impact. An ear-pounding concussion rocked the quiet neighborhood of Chatsworth and a fireball blew out, followed by the screams of injured passengers. More than 135 people were injured, some severely. The Chatsworth crash is said to be one of the worst train crashes in California’s history.

How does a Metrolink train hit another train head on in broad daylight? Investigations of the event data recorders and the National Transportation Safety Board cited the crew for running through a red light and distraction by a texting engineer. Lawsuits were expected to exceed the US limit of $200 million.

What’s in a black box? That depends. The boxes can provide only information, not conclusions that will stand up in court. Even if the event recorders provide evidence of failure to brake or other negligence on the engineer’s part, an argument can only be made based upon evidence gathered. Should the evidence in the recorder point to operator fault, there are constraints upon liability.

Witnesses of the NJ crash reported that the train seemed to be moving “too fast” upon entering the station and seemed not to slow when it approached the platform. Recent retrieval of the front-car data recorder may answer the speed question, and investigators should be able to piece together the events preceding the crash.

If you, or a loved one, has been injured in a train accident don’t hesitate to contact our firm.



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