HOBOKEN, N.J. (Reuters) - A commuter train plowed into a station in New Jersey at the height of Thursday’s morning rush hour, killing one person on the platform and injuring more than 100 as it brought down part of the roof and scattered debris over the concourse.
Witnesses described terrifying scenes as the front of the train smashed through the track stop at high speed and into the Hoboken terminal, toppling support columns and creating chaos at one of the busiest transit hubs in the New York City area.
One person died on the platform after being struck by debris from the crash, and 108 people were injured, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said.
The train’s engineer, or driver, was seriously injured and in a hospital, and was cooperating fully with investigators, Christie said.
“We have no indication that this is anything other than a tragic accident but ... we’re going to let the law enforcement professionals pursue the facts,” he told a news conference in Hoboken alongside his New York counterpart, Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo said it was obvious the train had come into the station too fast, but it was unclear why. The cause could be human error or technical failure, Cuomo said, adding it was too early say whether an anti-collision system known as positive train control could have prevented the crash.
A couple of hundred emergency workers spent the morning shuttling in and out of the station, some carrying the injured on stretchers to ambulances outside. Federal investigators later began examining the wreckage.
Some of the injured were in critical condition, officials at two hospitals said. Several passengers were initially trapped in the wreckage, but they were later freed.
Hoboken, the last stop on the line it serves, lies on the Hudson’s west bank across from New York City. Its station is used by many commuters traveling into Manhattan from New Jersey and further afield.
Linda Albelli, a 62-year-old from Closter, New Jersey, was sitting in one of the train’s rear cars and described how she had felt 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.”
‘HARD TO BELIEVE’
New Jersey Transit employee Michael Larson was standing outside the station with blood from one of the injured passengers on the knee of his pants.
“It’s hard to believe ... The whole roof was caved in,” Larson told reporters, looking shocked.
A major transit hub, the historic green-roofed Hoboken Station is served by NJ Transit commuter trains connecting much of New Jersey with the country’s largest city, as well as the Port Authority Trans-Hudson subway-like system known as PATH, a light rail service and ferry service to New York.
Train #1614 was on the Pascack Valley line, which goes through Northern Bergen County, and had originated at Spring Valley, New York. It was on track five when it hit the Hoboken terminal building at about 08:45 a.m. EDT.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that the Obama administration was not aware of any evidence linking the crash to terrorism, but that it was too soon to rule that out.
In May 2011, a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey train crashed at Hoboken station, injuring more than 30 people when it hit a bumping post at the end of the track. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined excessive speed was the main cause of the accident.
An NTSB official said the agency would look at similarities between that one and Thursday’s crash, as well as at positive train control, or PTC, the system designed to halt a train if the engineer misses a stop signal.
Advocates of PTC cite it for helping to combat human error, but there have been delays in implementing it more widely.
The Hoboken crash was the latest in a string of fatal train crashes in the United States. The worst in recent years involved an Amtrak train that crashed in Philadelphia in May 2015, killing eight people and injuring more than 200.
Both of the leading candidates for the U.S. presidential election in November offered their condolences, via Twitter messages. Republican nominee Donald Trump expressed his “deepest gratitude” to the first responders, while his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, said the images from the accident were horrifying and offered prayers for the bereaved and injured.
Reporting by Frank McGurty and Amy Tennery; additional reporting by Laila Kearney, David Ingram and Joseph Ax in New York, Catherine Ngai in Jersey City, and Susan Heavey and Tim Ahmann in Washington; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Grant McCool and Frances Kerry