Any time there’s a major transportation accident including loss of life, countless headlines follow the actual event. These range in Just the Facts stories to wild second-guessing and everything in between.
That circus played out not long ago in New Jersey when a train crash at a transit station killed one person and injured more than 100 more. The first questions that came out after the story hit the headlines asked why the train was traveling “twice the speed limit” before it crashed into the station. With that question still not entirely answered, the train station will reopen … at least partially. According to the Associated Press, 8 of the 17 tracks at the Hoboken Terminal are set to reopen as early as this week.
That decision delighted travelers, who have had to rework their schedules in recent days but doesn’t do much to assuage the fear and anger that comes after such an event receives round-the-clock news coverage.
In one step toward trying to be shown Doing Something, the New Jersey Transit Authority announced new regulations that will “require the conductor join the engineer whenever a train pulls into a terminal…” This according to NJ Transit spokesperson Jennifer Nelson. While this will give each train a second set of eyes as it comes into the station, there are some wondering if it will really solve the problem that caused the accident in the first place.
In his official account of the late September crash, the engineer driving the train said he has “no memory” of the crash. This statement has not done much to soothe the angry and fearful New Jersey travelers.
Human error is often a factor in these sorts of accidents, and train passengers often assume private and public travel organizations have set in place redundancies to reduce or eliminate potential human error. But, when these accidents are reported, all too often, these procedures are found to be non-existent or often ignored.
Worse, in this instance, many are saying the solution offered by NJTA is not really a solution at all, but a different sort of problem. In other crashes, two people in the engine created a distraction, as they chatted with each other, forgetting to follow safety procedures and pay close attention to the operation of the train. These cases have led to multiple deaths in previous events.
This fact presents a logistical quandary as well as a PR challenge for the transit authority. Do they solve a problem with a logical answer that could create another potential problem? Or should they find another way?
David Milberg is a credit analyst in NYC.