1996 Secaucus train collision


1996 Secaucus train collision


On February 9, 1996, two NJ Transit commuter trains collided at Bergen Junction (since removed/abandoned) in Secaucus, NJ. This accident occurred during the morning rush hour just south of the current Secaucus Junction station. It is NJ Transit's deadliest accident to date and was the first in which NJ Transit passengers and crew died. 3 people were killed and 162 others sustained injuries.

Background

The trains involved in the accident were Trains #1254 and #1107.

Train #1254

Train #1254 had departed Waldwick at 8:03 a.m. EST, about 5 minutes later than the 7:58 a.m. departure time. The train would make stops at Ho Ho Kus, Ridgewood, Radburn Fair Lawn, Broadway Fair Lawn, Plauderville , Garfield, Rutherford, and Harmon Cove. The train's final stop was supposed to be Hoboken Terminal with an arrival expected at 8:44 a.m. The engineer was John J. DeCurtis with conductor Stephen Miller as well as an unnamed assistant conductor. Train #1254 consisted of one Comet II cab car (#5146), 4 trailer Comet I cars, and a GP40PH-2 #4110. Train #1254 made all stops on the Bergen County Line except Glen Rock Boro Hall; the train also made a stop at Harmon Cove (it was replaced by Secaucus Junction by 2003). At the time of the collision, the train had over 250 passengers aboard.

Train #1107

Train #1107, headed for Suffern, had departed Hoboken Terminal at 8:31 a.m. EST, about one minute late. Train #1107 was operated by engineer Alfonso Debonis, as well as an unnamed conductor and assistant conductor. #1107 consisted of GP40PH-2 #4148, 5 Comet I trailer cars, and one Comet I cab car (#5120), at the time of the collision. The train had 125 passengers as well as 2 deadheading NJT employees who were traveling to Suffern so they could operate another train that originated there. Both trains were running in push-pull configuration.

Accident

Train #1254 had left Harmon Cove station at 8:33 a.m. with 275 passengers and accelerated to 53 mph. Meanwhile Train #1107 departed Hoboken at 8:31 a.m. with 125 passengers aboard. Train #1254 soon passed a medium approach position light signal telling the train to slow down, according to black box data the train passed this signal at 34 mph, the next signal would show the engineer a stop indication at Bergen Junction to wait for Train #1107 to pass before Train #1254 would be allowed to continue to Hoboken. Train #1254 continued to slow until about 71 feet before the stop indication position signal, the engineer then accelerated the train to 20 mph past the red signal light. Shortly afterward the train went into emergency braking after the engineer realized his mistake. Several moments earlier, Train #1107 had been shown a clear signal and was approaching the western end of Bergen Junction at 53 mph, the track speed for that section was 60 mph. Train #1254 was moving at 18 mph when the collision occurred, passenger accounts on Train #1254 describe the sound of the brakes and the blaring of the train horn moments before the collision.

Cab Car #5146 was ripped open in the collision, killing the engineer John J. DeCurtis, and Arthur David Stern, a passenger aboard train #1254. Locomotive #4148's roof collapsed in on the cab on impact thereby killing Engineer Alfonso Debonis instantly. In addition, 162 passengers were injured.

Fatalities

There were three fatalities:

  • John J. DeCurtis, 59, lived on Staten Island, was the engineer of train #1254 and had been an engineer for 40 years.
  • Arthur David Stern, 49, lived in Fair Lawn, was a lawyer in New York City. He was the only passenger who died.
  • Alfonso Debonis, 47, lived in Hasbrouck Heights, was the engineer of train #1107, employed by NJ Transit Rail Operations for 7 years, was promoted to engineer in 1990.

Aftermath

The accident was the New York City area's worst train accident since the 1958 Newark Bay rail accident.

Following the accident Comet II cab car #5146 was scrapped, while GP40PH-2 #4110, and Comet I cab car #5120 continued to be in service.

One year later, In 1997, GP40PH-2 #4148 was rebuilt, and put back in service as #4219 following the rebuild.

Emergency response

The New Jersey Transit Police Department was notified at 8:40 am and arrived at the accident site 13 minutes later. Other emergency services arrived within about 10 to 20 minutes after the first several 911 calls were made.

NJ Transit response

The conductor of train #1254 was able to evacuate all passengers of the train with the help of the assistant conductor. The conductor aboard train #1107 was reported to be visibly upset, repeatedly crying that "people are dead" which also worried many passengers, the 2 deadheading NJ Transit employees helped evacuate the train instead. After the evacuation, the remaining crew members stood watch to flag down any oncoming trains. Both crews abroad both trains did not use the public address system to communicate with passengers, they instead went from car to car yelling for passengers to exit the train. The assistant conductor aboard train #1254 later reported that he did not know if the public address system was working or not, so he did not use it. The conductor aboard train #1107 could not recall if the system worked or not. Throughout the evacuation process, both train crews communicated by hand held radio. The accident was first reported by the engineer of an eastbound NJ Transit train on the Main Line at 8:45 am.

References

  • Macfarque, Neil (1996) CRASH ON NEW JERSEY TRANSIT: THE SCENE;Just Another Day on Train Turns to Morning of Torn Metal, Chaos and Fear. The New York Times

1996 Secaucus train collision


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