Nearly three years after a commuter train crashed into a platform at the Hoboken terminal, killing a young mother who had just dropped her daughter at daycare, the train engineer who caused the accident will return to work.
The engineer, Thomas Gallagher who was driving the train at the time of the fatal crash, was suspended and fired in 2018 following an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Gallagher won his arbitration case on Aug. 28, allowing him to return to work at NJ Transit, although he will not be driving passengers.
“While NJ TRANSIT opposed the reinstatement of Mr. Gallagher, we are required to comply with the legal decision made by the arbitrator,” said Chief of Communications and Public Information Nancy Snyder. “Under provisions clearly defined in that decision, NJ TRANSIT can and will restrict his duty to non-passenger trains. In addition, the decision lays out rigorous testing and compliance that Mr. Gallagher must adhere to, including training and re-certification for operating a locomotive as well as strict medical oversight. NJ TRANSIT will be strictly enforcing compliance in all of these areas.”
On Sept. 29, 2016, at around 8:45 a.m., a NJ Transit train from the suburbs failed to slow down as it entered the Erie Lackawanna Train Terminal in southern Hoboken and crashed into the concrete platform at the end of the line.
The collision injured more than 100 people and killed Fabiola Bittar de Kroon of Hoboken, 34, who was hit by debris on her way to work.
Gallagher of Morris Plains, who worked for NJ Transit for 29 years, said at the time that he did not remember the moment of impact, but that the train was going 10 miles per hour (the speed limit) when it entered the terminal.
The NTSB found that the train was traveling at 21 m.p.h., 11 m.p.h. over the 10 m.p.h. speed limit.
“Just prior to the collision, the event recorder indicated that the throttle position went from number 4 to idle. Engineer-induced emergency braking occurred less than 1 second before the collision with the bumping post.”
According to interview transcripts from the National Transportation Safety Board investigation, a “concerned citizen,” Kenneth Kassner, describes a phone conversation he had with Gallagher in which Kassner said Gallagher allegedly told him he was upset the day of the crash, and wasn’t paying attention.
Since then, Gallagher has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, a condition during which a person has frequent pauses in breathing or shallow breathing and numerous moments of waking during sleep, according to the National Health Institute. The condition may leave a sufferer feeling fatigued during the day.
According to the NTSB, this fatigue caused the crash, adding that NJ Transit failed to adequately screen and treat employees for sleep apnea.
Gallagher had passed a health screening just three months prior to the incident.
Hoboken has not fully recovered from the Sept. 29, 2016 crash. The terminal is still undergoing construction to repair the damage.
NJ Transit has instituted several safety improvements since the crash, including continuing to install PTC (Positive Train Control), a set of highly advanced programs designed to make rail transportation safer by automatically stopping a train if the engineer does not take appropriate actions.
NJ Transit has a federally mandated deadline of December 2020 to complete PTC installation, after it received a two-year extension.
It is estimated to cost NJ Transit more than $320 million.
Since the crash, NJ Transit has mandated sleep apnea testing for engineers and conductors, decreased the speed limit entering the terminal, and mandated a conductor ride in the cab with the engineer as a safety precaution.