Investigators probe key pieces of evidence in deadly Hoboken, NJ train crash

Scene of New Jersey Transit train crash in Hoboken, N.J., Thurs., Sept. 29, 2016.  (TWITTER:@BIG_POPPA_CHOP)
Scene of New Jersey Transit train crash in Hoboken, N.J., Thurs., Sept. 29, 2016. (TWITTER:@BIG_POPPA_CHOP)

HOBOKEN, NJ (CBS News) – Federal investigators are turning to the engineer at the center of a deadly train crash for answers, after a New Jersey Transit commuter train derailed as it pulled into the Hoboken train station during rush hour Thursday morning.

One person died and more than 100 others – including the train’s engineer – were hurt in the crash at a final stop in Hoboken, just across the Hudson River from New York City. State officials said it approached the platform at a high rate of speed and slammed barriers at the end of the track, landing on the platform, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod.

Investigators won’t fully be able to inspect the damage until contractors remove part of the station’s roof that’s now resting on the train in the terminal. Trains pulling into the station are supposed to travel at 10 miles per hour. Investigators haven’t said how fast the train was moving when it wound up on the platform during rush hour.

The force of New Jersey Transit 1614 tore apart the concourse inside Hoboken terminal.

“I thought we were going to die, I didn’t think we were going to get out,” said Alexis Valley, a passenger.

Passengers climbed out of the wreckage after the crash, amid wires, glass and toppled beams.

“We tried to clear the way for the people that were bleeding more to get out first,” said another passenger. “The train just didn’t stop.”

Surveillance video shows the train approximately 40 minutes before the crash.

New Jersey officials said the train – made up of three passenger cars and a locomotive – entered Hoboken terminal on track five, moving at a high rate of speed. It jumped over several barriers at the end of the track.

“It went over the bumper block, basically through the air,” said New Jersey transit employee Michael Larson.

Thirty-four-year-old Fabiola Bittar de Kroon died in the accident after being hit by debris in the station. More than 100 others were injured, including 48-year-old Thomas Gallagher, the train’s engineer.

Officials say Gallagher is cooperating. NTSB investigators will interview him and piece together a timeline of his actions in the 72 hours before the crash.

Investigators also removed the locomotive event recorder – or “black box” – from the wreckage.

“From the event recorder, we hope to get information such as speed and breaking,” said NTSB Vice Chairman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr.

And they’ll examine two cameras on the front and back of the train.

On average, more than 15,000 New Jersey Transit riders pass through the Hoboken terminal every day. State officials say it was some of those commuters, along with first responders, that helped prevent further tragedy.

“I would like to applaud all the first responders who did a magnificent job once again,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. “Today is another situation for us to deal with, but when we work together, there is nothing that we can’t accomplish and nothing that we can’t overcome.”

The terminal remains closed Friday. The NTSB said there are concerns over part of the building’s structural damage, stemming a water leak following the accident. Their investigators could be on the ground for up 10 days.

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