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Train Accidents Likely to Impair NYC Commute

Monday, May 9, 2011

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HOBOKEN, N.J. – A commuter train crash that left dozens with mostly minor injuries and the derailment of an empty Amtrak train in a tunnel put Monday morning's commute in jeopardy in New York City, where travelers were urged to allow extra time even though additional buses and ferries would be provided and most agencies planned to honor each other's tickets.

The PATH commuter train, headed here from New York, crashed at about 8:30 Sunday morning as it pulled into the last station on its route, injuring 34 and shutting down the tracks for hours. Some service was restored later.

None of the injuries was considered life-threatening, though several victims were taken away on stretchers or put in neck braces as a precaution, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said. The injured, who mostly sustained cuts and bruises, were taken to three area hospitals for treatment, and most, if not all, were expected to be released later in the day.

PATH train service into and out of the station in Hoboken, just across the Hudson River from New York City, was suspended for about 11 hours because of the crash, but some service resumed on at least one of the station's three tracks around 7:30 p.m. Sunday, giving officials hope that the morning commute wouldn't be as hectic as initially believed.

Port Authority and city officials said crews would be working through the night as needed to make repairs to damaged track and other areas of the Hoboken station. It was hoped that at least two of the tracks would be ready for the commute.

The PATH, or Port Authority Trans-Hudson, system is the main transit link between Manhattan and neighboring New Jersey urban communities and suburban commuter railroads. It handles nearly 250,000 passenger trips each weekday, fewer on weekends.

A few hours after the PATH crash, an empty Amtrak train derailed in New York's East River tunnel on the other side of Manhattan. No crew members were injured, Amtrak spokeswoman Danelle Hunter told the Daily News. A broken rail led to the derailment, the Long Island Rail Road said.

It reduced its Monday schedule for trains operating into Penn Station, canceling 13 trains and planning to divert six others. The agency warned of delays of up to 20 minutes.

Riders of Amtrak and New Jersey Transit were likely to experience delays and service changes as well. Both are also routed through Penn Station, which serves half a million passengers daily and is the country's busiest train station.

Passengers on the PATH train said it had been a routine trip until they suddenly were knocked around by the impact at the station.
"People were stunned, but nobody was really going crazy or anything," said Tom Gordon, of Jersey City, who was riding in the train's front car with about 15 other people. "I didn't know what had happened at first."

Gordon, who was headed home from his security job at a New York City apartment building, said he was half-asleep as the train pulled into the station on track No. 2. But he was quickly awakened and jolted from his seat by the crash.

He was taken to a hospital for treatment of minor arm and rib injuries and left Sunday afternoon with his arm in a sling.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation, but city police said it appeared that a mechanical failure was to blame. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were investigating.

Officials said the train's motorman would be tested for drugs and alcohol, which is standard policy in such crashes. They said there was no reason or evidence to suggest that the motorman had been impaired at the time of the crash.

Witnesses described the scene at the station as "controlled chaos," saying people were mostly calm but very concerned for the injured. Zimmer praised the efforts of emergency responders from Hoboken and surrounding communities who answered their call for assistance.

"Everyone did a great job," she said.

Zimmer said updated information on service disruptions would be posted on the city's and Port Authority's websites. (s)
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