A commuter train plowed into a station in New Jersey at the height of Thursday’s morning rush hour, killing at least one person and injuring 108 others as it brought down part of the roof and scattered debris over the concourse.
Witnesses, according to Reuters, described terrifying scenes as the front of the train smashed through the track stop in Hoboken station at high speed and into the terminal, toppling support columns and creating chaos at one of the busiest transit hubs in the New York City area.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told a news conference in Hoboken that one person was killed on the platform by debris from the crash, and he said 108 people were injured. There were no signs it was anything other than an accident, he added.
The train’s engineer, or driver, was seriously injured and in a hospital, and was cooperating with law enforcement officials in the investigation, Christie said.
“We’re not going to speculate about the cause of the accident,” he said.
New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo told the news conference it was obvious the train had come into the station “at too high a rate of speed,” but that it was unclear why.
A couple of hundred emergency workers shuttled in and out of the station, some carrying the injured on stretchers to waiting ambulances outside. Dozens of police boats bobbed in the Hudson River alongside the terminal.
Accounts from officials at two hospitals said some of the injured were in critical condition. Several passengers were initially trapped in the wreckage, witnesses and officials said, but they were later freed.
There was no word yet on what caused the crash. Federal investigators were on the scene.
“The one thing we do know is that obviously this train that was traveling at a fairly high rate of speed,” Christie said in an interview earlier on Thursday with CNN.
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, 62, was sitting 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.”
Passengers helped each other onto the platform where the injured sat on benches as they waited for first responders, said Albelli, who lives in Closter, New Jersey.
“There were a lot of people who were really hurt,” she said.
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 commonly 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.
Mike Scelzl, who was sitting in the train’s first car, said he had not been paying attention when the crash happened. “When we pulled in, there was screaming. Not screams of hurt but screams of shock,” he said.
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 will look at similarities between that one and Thursday’s crash, as well as at positive train control – a system that is designed to kick in and halt a train if the engineer misses a stop signal.
Advocates of positive train control cite it for helping to combat human error, but there have been delays in implementing it more widely.
The Hoboken crash is 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.