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FDNY: More than 100 hurt in LIRR train accident at Atlantic Terminal

A Long Island Rail Road train hit a bumper block at the end of the track and derailed at Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, causing at least 103 injuries, none of them life-threatening, officials said on Jan. 4, 2017. (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

The story was reported by Alfonso A. Castillo, Matthew Chayes, Mark Morales, William Murphy, Ivan Pereira, Emily Ngo, Rachel Uda and Ellen Yan. It was written by Castillo.

Federal investigators are trying to determine why a rush-hour Long Island Rail Road train crashed through a barrier at the end of the tracks at the Brooklyn terminal Wednesday, injuring more than 100 people.

At a news briefing at Atlantic Terminal on Wednesday night, lead investigator Jim Southworth said National Transportation Safety Board officials planned to interview the train’s three-member crew, including the engineer, who was treated for minor injuries.

NTSB investigators also on Wednesday retrieved the train’s event recorder, which should provide data on the train’s performance, including its speed and whether brakes were applied. The information could then be compared with video of the train pulling into the station.

“I take that data and we look at it very closely and make determinations about its accuracy,” Southworth said.

NTSB officials said they plan to be at the site for up to seven days. They are asking any eyewitnesses to email them footage and video of the crash to help with the investigation.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the probe will focus on “why the operator didn’t stop the train before it hit the bumping block.”

“What happened with the operator, we don’t know,” Cuomo said during a briefing at the site earlier Wednesday.

At least 103 people were injured, according to officials. However, Cuomo said it was difficult to accurately say how many people were hurt because many of the train’s passengers had left the scene.

The FDNY said some of the injured were taken to Brooklyn Hospital Center, New York Methodist Hospital and Kings County Hospital Center, but the number who required hospitalization was not immediately known. Cuomo described the majority of the injuries as “minor.”

The governor said he believed the most serious of the injuries to have been a possible broken leg sustained by a woman, however Brooklyn Hospital Center spokeswoman Joan Clark later said the woman’s leg was not broken.

“Everyone is in pretty good shape,” said Clark, who expected all 31 people taken to the hospital to be discharged later Wednesday.

“Thank God this was not a worse accident,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters. “This is, thankfully, a very contained accident.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the new Democratic minority leader, will be paying close attention to the NTSB as he looks into what might have gone wrong, said spokesman Angelo Roefaro.

The six-car electric train originated in Far Rockaway, Queens, at 7:18 a.m. and was due into Atlantic Terminal at 8:11 a.m., carrying about 430 passengers, according to the LIRR.

The rush-hour train was traveling at a “fairly low rate of speed” when it pulled into Track 6 of Atlantic Terminal about 8:15 a.m., crashing through a bumper block at the end of the tracks and causing part of the front car to derail, Cuomo said.

“The train came in and hit the so-called bumping block and went by it for a few feet,” Cuomo said.

“Obviously the train is supposed to stop short of the bumping block. It did not do that,” said MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast, who accompanied Cuomo.

FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Dan Donoghue said the train’s wheels “lifted up” and the train crashed through “a small room in the area that was at the end of the track.”

“I don’t believe anyone was in that room, and if they were, they must have got out quick, because that room sustained quite a bit of damage,” said Donoghue, who also said that a rail from the track “pierced” the bottom of the train. “We’re actually fortunate we didn’t have more severe injuries.”

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said most of the people on the train evacuated on their own. “Those that couldn’t we had folks here to handle it and it was very well-managed and very well-coordinated.”

Prendergast said the brakes and other operating components of the train would be inspected.

According to the LIRR, the speed limit at the station is 5 mph.

Although the LIRR has signal technology in place to automatically control the trains’ speed, Prendergast said, approaching the end of a line it would have been “primarily the locomotive engineer’s responsibility to stop the train.”

Kevin Sexton, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division 269, which represents 400 Long Island Rail Road engineers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Robert Halstead, a Syracuse-based railroad accident reconstruction expert and investigator, said he believes the probe should focus on the train’s engineer — including any possible distractions, such as personal electronic devices, and whether he was fatigued.

“They have to really look at the last 72 hours — see what his sleep-rest cycles were, when he went off-duty last time — to see if there’s any potential issue there,” Halstead said.

Atlantic Terminal has a “head house” configuration, where train tracks terminate facing a station building. Halstead said that while there is nothing inherently dangerous about the layout, “it does rely on human factor to successfully complete that movement.”

It’s a similar design to NJ Transit’s Hoboken station, where in late September a train that failed to stop at the station crashed through concrete bumper blocks at the end of the line, killing one person and injuring more than 100.

Investigators in that accident later determined that the engineer had undiagnosed sleep apnea, which federal railroad officials have said could increase the risk of train accidents caused by engineer fatigue. The LIRR began testing engineers for the sleep disorder last year.

Despite the similar circumstances of the two accidents, Cuomo said the LIRR crash “is minor compared to what happened in Hoboken.” Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said they did not expect the accident to impact service.

Images on social media showed several emergency responders at the scene treating people for injuries, including some on stretchers.

Passenger Rob Schroeder of Woodmere said he was in the fifth car of the train and there was “not too much damage there.”

“I was sitting, so I was fine. I saw a couple of people who were standing that got tossed forward. One woman fell, but was OK,” he said.

One rider, Ry Karl, posted a short video showing a damaged station door and passengers crowded around the platform.

“Well this is one way to start the morning,” Karl posted. My train crashed through Atlantic Terminal. Hope everyone else is OK.”

Atlantic Terminal is the LIRR’s second-busiest western terminal, after Penn Station. The Brooklyn terminal serves about 10,000 customers on an average weekday morning.

Ridership on the line has surged in recent years, in part because of the development of the Barclays Center, built over a former LIRR rail yard across the street from the terminal.

The crash is the second LIRR accident with injuries in less than three months. In October, an LIRR train derailed near New Hyde Park, injuring more than 30 people.

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