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Official: Investigators have speed estimate of Hoboken train at time of crash

HOBOKEN, N.J. -- Federal investigators estimate a commuter train was traveling two to three times the 10 mph speed limit when it slammed into a New Jersey rail terminal last week, a U.S. official told The Associated Press Tuesday.

The official, who was briefed on the investigation, said investigators estimated the train was moving between 20 and 30 mph when it crashed into Hoboken Terminal last Thursday. The estimate is based on the extent of damage, not on data from the train’s instruments.

The official was not authorized to speak about an ongoing investigation and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

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Thomas Gallagher.  CBS News

One woman standing on a platform was killed by debris as the train smashed through a concrete-and-steel bumper and knocked out pillars, causing a section of the station’s outdoor roof to collapse.

More than 100 people were injured.

The train’s engineer, Thomas Gallagher, told investigators that he had no memory of the crash but said he was operating at 10 mph as he approached the station, said T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, the vice chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Gallagher, 48, said he only remembered waking up on the floor of the engineer’s cab, Dinh-Zarr said Sunday during the most recent public briefing on the investigation.

The speed estimate comes as investigators extracted the second of the train’s two data recorders. Access to the device, in the front of the train, and video from the train’s forward-facing camera was hampered by the debris. 

A second data recorder, which was in the locomotive at the rear of the train, wasn’t functioning on the day of the crash and didn’t record speed, braking or other information about the trip, the NTSB said.

Dinh-Zarr said NTSB investigators also obtained surveillance video and video from forward-facing cameras on nearby trains.

“We will be able to look at the video to help us if for some reason there is not speed recorded, or if we are not able to get speed from other sources,” Dinh-Zarr said. “There are ways to use landmarks along the way.”

Tuesday morning, the NTSB recovered the data recorder and video recording from the front of the train as well as train operator’s cell phone, CBS News transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave reported. All were taken to D.C., and arrived about an hour ago. There is no information yet on if the recorder was working at the time.  

The NTSB released a photo of the recovered event recorder.

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Recorder retrieved by investigators from crashed Hoboken train on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.  NTSB

Federal regulations require commuter trains to have working recorders. The regulations require they be inspected every 92 days. It was unclear when the nonworking recorder, which officials said was installed in 1995, had been last inspected.

The commuter rail service has not responded to requests for comments.

As commuters got back to the Monday grind, crews at the Hoboken terminal continued demolition, working to get closer to the second data recorder buried beneath debris.

“Yea it’s a little bit frustrating,” commuter Melissa Vignone told CBS New York on Monday. “I feel sorry for the people, for the innocent people who just want answers.”

“I’d rather they take their time and figure out what’s going on,” commuter Patrice Jones told CBS New York. “If you really want to  figure it what happened, I don’t think anything is going anywhere. Get it right.”

Months before Thursday’s deadly train crash, federal rail officials found dozens of violations during an audit that focused on NJ Transit’s safety and operations, a U.S. official told The Associated Press.

The official, who was familiar with the Federal Railroad Administration audit, wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

The audit was launched after the federal regulatory agency noticed an uptick in rail incidents and found “dozens of safety violations” that needed to be fixed immediately, the official said. The commuter rail agency was fined as a result.

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