A packed rush hour commuter train erratically sped up and slowed down before it crashed at a rail terminal this week while traveling double the speed limit, injuring more than 100 people, federal officials said Thursday.
Passengers were hurled to the floor and slammed into one another when the Long Island Rail Road train crashed into the end of a platform at Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn on Wednesday morning. National Transportation Safety Board investigator Ted Turpin said the train had been traveling at least 10 mph when it crashed; the terminal’s speed limit is 5 mph.
A U.S. official briefed on the investigation said the train had erratically changed speeds in the three minutes before the crash, accelerating and decelerating between 2 and 10 mph. The official, who was briefed on the investigation but was not authorized to speak publicly about it and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the train was traveling at allowable speeds as it approached the station.
Federal investigators will test the train’s engineer for sleep apnea because he exhibited “typical risk factors” for the disorder, the official said, describing the engineer as overweight and adding his wife had complained he snores at night.
The 50-year-old engineer, whose name wasn’t released, told investigators he has no memory of the crash and wasn’t using a cellphone at the time, Turpin said.
“The engineer was unable to recall striking the end of the track,” Turpin said. “He does recall entering the station and controlling the speed of the train.”
Turpin said the man has been an engineer with the LIRR since 2000 and has been working nights for 12 years. Turpin said he’s been on this particular route, which starts shortly after midnight, for the last year and had just come back from three days off.
The engineer was given a drug test, Turpin said, but the results are not yet known.
Authorities said the front of the train slammed into a bumping block as it pulled into the station, leaving the tracks and barreling through a small structure in an apparent work area before a piece of track pierced through a train car. About 100 people were treated for injuries after the morning crash, though the most serious injury appeared to be a broken leg, said Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat.
The bumping block is designed only for very low speed, Turpin said, adding “there’s nothing that would cushion a train collision” like Wednesday’s.
The terminal is beneath a shopping mall in downtown Brooklyn, next to the Barclays Center, home to Brooklyn Nets basketball, New York Islanders hockey and major concerts.
In September, a New Jersey Transit commuter train plowed off the end of a track at a station in nearby Hoboken, New Jersey, killing a woman and injuring dozens of other people. The engineer of that train had undiagnosed sleep apnea, and federal investigators are examining whether a more modern bumper or other barriers could have made a difference.
The train in Wednesday’s wreck originated in Queens and was carrying around 450 people.