Wreck Recalls Past Jersey Train Disasters

Rail safety has greatly improved in recent decades, but the fatal Metro-North derailment on December 1 has brought back memories of past train wrecks in New Jersey, as recounted by Matt Flegenheimer in the Star-Ledger (Dec. 2).  Perhaps the worst was way back in 1958, when 48 commuters perished as a Jersey Central Railroad train plunged from the now-long-gone drawbridge over Newark Bay, plunging 2 locomotives and 2 cars into the murky waters.  Not mentioned in the article was the fatal derailment in the same era of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s “Broker” express to the Jersey Shore, which occurred at Woodbridge on a low-speed bypass while a new bridge was constructed for the then-under-construction New Jersey Turnpike.

More recently, in February, 1996, two NJ Transit commuter trains collided head-on at a junction in the Jersey Meadows, killing both engineers and a passenger.  The accident was attributed to one engineer’s inability to perceive a stop signal because of diabetic eye disease.  The junction no longer exists after realignment of rail lines in the area in connection with construction of the Secaucus Junction transfer station, yet the incident prompted modernization of NJT’s safety system with widespread in-cab signals and automatic controls ensuring that trains on most lines operate at safe speeds and separation from other trains.  Later in 1996, an Amtrak train derailed at the busy Portal drawbridge over the Hackensack River and ended up in the swamps after sideswiping a train going the other way; that accident was attributed to a defect in mechanical safety mechanisms that gave the engineer a false “green light” when the rails were in fact not properly aligned at the drawbridge.  The history of rail safety has always been that once an accident occurs, new rules are written to try to avoid a recurrence.

Read the complete article at http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2013/12/train_derailments_have_drastically_declined_but_danger_always_there.html