A preliminary finding by investigators looking into the accident May 5 when a Jersey City fire engine struck a Hudson Bergen Light Rail train, injuring 15 people, suggests the fire truck may have missed or ignored a signal indicating the train was coming.
The accident, which took place near the Sixth Street crossing just south of the Newport station at about 7:15 p.m., hurt 10 passengers, the conductor and four firefighters, but none seriously.
Jersey City, State Police, and NJ Transit officials said the fire truck, on an emergency call, hit the side of the train, caused the train to derail, and brought down some of the system’s overhead power lines.
Service between the Marin Boulevard and Newport stations was suspended both ways for approximately five hours, said NJ Transit spokeswoman Lisa Torbic. NJ Transit Police is the lead agency investigating the accident.
The Sixth Street crossing is one of the main conduits between Marin Boulevard and Washington Street, connecting downtown and Hamilton Park to the Newport section of the city. It is located just south of Newport Mall has a significant traffic, especially during rush hour when train traffic is also heavy. This area is serviced by a fire house located on Marin Boulevard, and would be the main thoroughfare to Newport in case of an emergency.
“Flashing lights should definitely be considered.” – Ward E Council member Candice Osborne.
Sixth Street is one of two streets that have access to otherwise relatively remote Washington Boulevard, and so emergency vehicles use it rather than traveling many additional blocks north to 11th Street to get around Newport Centre Mall or south to the Harborside area.
This is the second accident to take place in that area this year, and raises the question whether the warning systems are adequate to prevent possible accidents.
HBLR crossings are lightly controlled
There are a number of these crossings throughout Jersey City. In many cases, there is only a traffic light to indicate a train is coming. Old fashioned train crossings have gates and a lot of other flashing lights.
Local officials say they may be considering stronger warning systems, especially when it comes to public safety vehicles that may be responding to emergencies.
“Flashing lights should definitely be considered,” said Ward E Council member Candice Osborne, who represents the part of the city where both accidents occurred, and which has the most ground level street crossings, extending from Newport to Jersey Avenue.
The accident earlier this year between a sports utility vehicle and a north bound light rail train was attributed to a road covered with ice. But the potential for traffic and pedestrian accidents is significant. In Jersey City, the rail line crosses a number of busy streets, and weaves through streets near the waterfront. Bicycle riding events and walking or running events often cross the tracks in this area of the city.
On May 6, about 12 hours after the accident, a 10k race was being run along those streets, requiring trains to slow or stop frequently.
“Often times these roads are shared with cars and the train,” Osborne said. “So if a fire department driver saw a red light but was in an emergency, there is nothing to indicate that it is a train versus a car coming. Giving that extra bit of information would probably be very helpful to our firefighters.”
Councilwoman At-Large Joyce Watterman said she will discuss the issue with Jersey City public safety officials to seek a remedy. The City Council will likely take up the issue at its regularly scheduled caucus later this month.
“They are looking into putting more warnings signals and additional training,” Watterman said. “The matter is still under investigation.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.