Train derails into marsh in New Jersey Amtrak wreck snarls service from Boston to Washington

Two riders in hospital

Investigation begins at swampy crash site near New York City

November 24, 1996|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Erin Texeira and Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this article.

An Amtrak train carrying passengers and mail from Washington to Boston derailed six miles outside of New York City early yesterday morning, leaving about 35 of its 88 passengers and crew with minor injuries and snarling rail traffic at the start of one of the year's busiest travel weeks.

The accident halted all train service yesterday between Newark, N.J., and New York City, caused cancellation of numerous Metroliner trains in the Northeast corridor, and left rail passengers from Boston to Washington facing delays of several hours.

Amtrak arranged for about 15,000 passengers to travel between Penn Station in Manhattan and Newark by bus or subway. "It was certainly disruptive and difficult. It was not easy but it was the best we could do under the circumstances," said Amtrak spokesman Clifford Black.

Complete service, including the faster Metroliners that have fewer stops, was expected to resume by early this morning, Black said.

"Passengers will experience minor delays Sunday. By minor, I mean in the 10-minute category," he said. "Unless something unforeseen crops up, we expect full operation, no delays, by Monday morning rush hour. Both [northbound and southbound] tracks will be back in service."

One of the two tracks was expected to be cleared after midnight to make way for regular Sunday service, Amtrak spokeswoman Maureen Garrity said last night. The second track is expected to be running for tomorrow's rush hour.

A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said an investigation team planned to finish documenting the derailment site last night and expected to turn it back over to Amtrak so work could begin to repair the tracks and restore service.

The accident occurred when the train, the Northeast Direct 12, derailed and sideswiped the southbound Amtrak Carolinian, which was headed for Charlotte, N.C., then plunged down a muddy embankment alongside the Hackensack River in Secaucus, N.J. No one on the southbound train was injured.

Only two people, both Amtrak employees from Philadelphia, on the northbound suffered injuries that required hospitalization, and they are expected to be sent home today.

Engineer Robert Cuff, 35, suffered back and neck injuries and cuts to his hands. Ronald Galloway, 42, an electrician abroad the train, was also treated for back and neck injuries. Both are Philadelphia residents.

Others injured in the derailment had minor bumps and bruises.

The 12-car train had stopped in Baltimore at Penn Station about 3: 30 a.m. yesterday, but Amtrak officials last night said it was unclear whether any passengers boarded at the Charles Street station.

Amtrak and NTSB officials said the cause of the derailment remained unknown. "There's nothing to indicate there were any violations at this stage of the investigation," Black said. The mail was undamaged, he said.

If there was a common sentiment among Amtrak officials yesterday, it was relief that the derailment occurred on a Saturday, the lightest travel day of the week in the railroad business.

"This is the day we would be least affected," said Don Peterson, supervisor of customer services at Baltimore's Penn Station. "It's a certain amount of inconvenience for people, but for the most part they're getting to their destinations."

Ian LaFollette, 23, of Columbia, S.C., stoically munched a ham sandwich as he sat in Baltimore's Penn Station late yesterday afternoon. His train was to have arrived in Baltimore at noon, when his parents planned to pick him up.

He arrived four hours later, and his parents were nowhere in sight.

"I have no idea if my parents are coming -- I can't get a hold of them," he said.

Nearby, an electronic schedule board showed that three of five trains scheduled to pass through Penn Station had been delayed or canceled.

Last evening, Dan Oppenheim, 22, a Manhattan financial analyst who was on Amtrak's Northeast Direct Bay State train traveling to his parents' home in Columbia, Howard County, to celebrate his mother's birthday, said, "I planned on getting in about 5: 53 but here I am and it's now after 7: 30. It's a bit frustrating, but it's part of transportation and traveling and now I'm just hungry."

Another Bay State passenger, Louis Schaftel, 41, an investment broker from Reisterstown who was in New York on business, said, "It was a real mess in New York. If we had not asked, we still would have been sitting in that train station in Newark. None of the passengers had a clue that they canceled Metroliners. You had to check and find another way."

Northeast Direct 12, known as Amtrak's "fast mail" train, left Washington's Union Station at about 3 a.m. yesterday with two locomotives pulling five mail and seven passenger cars.

The train made its regular stop in Baltimore and continued

toward Newark "pretty much on time" throughout the trip, Federal Railroad Administration officials said. But minutes after leaving Penn Station in Newark and crossing a drawbridge that spans the Hackensack River, the train jumped the track.

A protruding piece of car or equipment hit the Carolinian, causing minor damage. The Carolinian went on to Newark, where passengers transferred to other trains.

The mail train's two locomotives, a mail car and two passenger coaches came to rest on their sides in the marshy river embankment.

The other cars derailed but remained upright on the train bed.

Passenger information was sketchy because most station ticket offices are closed during the hours the train runs.

Amtrak officials said service from New York to points east in New England and upstate New York were not affected.

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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