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Federal Investigators Work To Determine Cause Of Hoboken, N.J., Train Crash


I'm Scott Simon. Investigators still search for clues in the crash of a commuter train in Hoboken this week. A New Jersey Transit train rammed into a station on Thursday morning. One woman was killed. More than a hundred people were injured. Bella Dinh-Zarr, a vice chair for the National Transportation Safety Board, joins us now. Thanks very much for being with us. I know you're very busy. Thanks for making time.

BELLA DINH-ZARR: I appreciate your having me. But I'm sorry it's for such a sad occasion.

SIMON: We understand investigators recovered one block - black box from the crash. And I gather there are two. What can that one box tell you? Do you need the second?

DINH-ZARR: The one black box can tell us some good information. It's a quantum-engineering manufacturer recorder. And what we're doing now is that our recorder specialist is already working with the manufacturer to use their conversion software - it's not unusual to do this - to turn all of those zeros and ones into information we can use, such as the distance traveled, the throttle inputs, the brake system performance, as well as the speed.

SIMON: So so many eyewitnesses say the train just didn't slow down when it came into the station. Has what you learned supported that view so far?

DINH-ZARR: We don't have the information from the black box yet. And this is just one of the two event data recorders, as well as video footage, that we're collecting. They were forward-facing cameras on both the front and the back end of this train.

SIMON: Yeah. I just wonder if maybe the cameras - or there must have been some kind of, you know, terrible scorch marks or something if the train didn't slow down.

DINH-ZARR: Yeah. And actually, we have not been able to access part of the train. We have some, I'd say, environmental and structural challenges. The canopy actually collapsed. And there's also asbestos that has been found - not to mention the weather. So I know we're all anxious to get into those cars to get all this information. But we're still early on in our investigation.

SIMON: Train's engineer was Thomas Gallagher - in his late 40s. Last I saw in news reports, he hasn't been interviewed. Although, he's out of the hospital and at home. Will he be interviewed soon?

DINH-ZARR: Yes. And we are very grateful that the entire crew, including this engineer, has been very cooperative. So, unfortunately, he was injured. So we want to respect that. And we are in the process of interviewing the crew and will be interviewing the engineer.

SIMON: OK. But that hasn't been done yet?

DINH-ZARR: No. But it's scheduled.

SIMON: OK. We've learned a lot this week about something called positive train control. I know you don't want to reach any conclusions prematurely. But in the 30 seconds we have left, could that have been helpful in this situation?

DINH-ZARR: Positive train control is absolutely a great prevention measure for train crashes - crashes of trains - two trains - or derailments or overspeed. The problem here is we don't know yet. So we're hoping we'll be able to see. We'll absolutely look into PTC. And if it is a prevention measure, then that will confirm our recommendations that we've been making for 40 years.

SIMON: Bella Dinh-Zarr of the NTSB, thanks so much for being with us.

DINH-ZARR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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