Early findings from the Long Island Rail Road's probe into Friday's collision between two passenger trains near the Jamaica station indicate one of the engineers violated a stop signal, the railroad's president said Monday.
Patrick Nowakowski explained the rush-hour accident to members of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's LIRR Committee in Manhattan. He said shortly after 6 p.m. Friday, a westbound train that originated in Montauk was stopped just east of Jamaica, waiting for a train ahead to clear a track.
An eastbound Huntington train should have been alerted to stop by a train signal, but instead went ahead at about 15 mph, striking the side of the first car of the other train.
"He [the engineer] put the emergency brake on prior to colliding," Nowakowski said.
No one was hurt.
He added that an "investigation is in full swing" to determine whether the engineer, switches and train equipment functioned as they should have.
Nowakowski said preliminary testing showed the signal system was working properly.
The LIRR has not identified the two engineers involved in the collision. Nowakowski said both have been removed from service with pay pending the investigation.
Discussing the "human factor" in the accident, MTA board member Vincent Tessitore, who represents LIRR union workers, said that in the vast majority of complicated train moves at busy Jamaica station, LIRR crews get it right. But "every now and then something may go wrong," he said.
The latest MTA train safety incident again raised questions about the future of positive train control, or PTC -- the federally mandated crash prevention technology the LIRR expects to have in place by 2018.
However, unlike in other accidents, Nowakowski said PTC would not have made a difference in Friday's collision because of the proximity of the two trains, which were in the same grouping of switches and signals.
"There's no technology that I'm aware of that would have prevented this from happening," said Nowakowski, who emphasized the challenges of maneuvering trains at rush hour through Jamaica station. He said engineers must be keenly aware of their surroundings.
LIRR officials on Monday also released new details of another recent safety incident -- a woman's fall through the gap between a train and station platform July 2 at Great Neck.
LIRR chief safety officer Loretta Ebbighausen said the fall may not have technically been a gap incident at all, because the victim, Sima Hakimian, 65, of Great Neck, did not fall between the doorway and the platform. Instead, she was walking along the "tactile strip" at the platform's edge.
"There was a number of factors that appear to have contributed to the incident occurring, including the condition of the individual involved, as well as the crowding and the pushing and shoving," Ebbighausen said.
LIRR officials later said Ebbighausen was not referring to a specific condition. Hakimian's attorney Michael Levine, of Hauppauge, acknowledged she does have a "weak left side," but added that he didn't know "how that possibly could have contributed to the accident."
Levine said Hakimian suffered broken ribs and a broken clavicle in the fall.
Ebbighausen said the gap at the station, which the LIRR has said was 8.45 inches, was within the railroad's standards.
"One of the challenges for us is that Great Neck is one of those stations that lies on a curve," Nowakowski said. "And when they lie on a curve, it's a more complicated situation."