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N.J. Transit had 150 accidents in 5 years

A commuter train crash in Hoboken, N.J., Thursday killed a woman and injured more than 100 people.
A commuter train crash in Hoboken, N.J., Thursday killed a woman and injured more than 100 people.(Corey Futterman via REUTERS)

HOBOKEN, N.J. — New Jersey Transit trains have been involved in more than 150 accidents that caused more than $4.8 million in damage to tracks or equipment since 2011, and the commuter rail has paid more than $500,000 to settle safety violations, according to federal data.

Federal Railroad Administration information shows that New Jersey Transit settled 183 safety violations — ranging from employee drug and alcohol use to violations of railroad operating rules or practices — since Jan. 1, 2011.

The settlement payments include about $70,000 for more than a dozen safety violations in 2014 and 2015. Statistics for the current year are not yet available.

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Months before Thursday’s deadly commuter train crash in Hoboken federal rail officials found dozens of violations during an audit focusing on New Jersey Transit’s safety and operations, a US official confirmed Saturday.

The official, who was familiar with the railroad administration audit, spoke on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation.

The railroad administration began an audit in June after noticing 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 of the audit, the official said, adding that federal agencies are continuing to work with the railroad to ensure compliance with federal rail safety guidelines.

There were 25 accidents in 2015 and 10 in the first seven months of 2016, but none caused injuries or death, federal data showed. Most of the incidents occurred at low speeds and more than half were in train yards.

On Thursday, a commuter train smashed through a steel-and-concrete bumper and hurtled into the station’s waiting area, killing a woman on the platform and injuring more than 100 other people.

The train’s engineer, Thomas Gallagher, who was among those injured in the crash, has been interviewed by the National Transportation Safety Board, officials said, but the agency provided no further details about the interview in a news release Saturday.

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During an appearance on ‘‘Fox News Sunday,’’ Governor Chris Christie said it was still not clear why the train was traveling so fast.

The Republican governor said there were several possible reasons, such as engineer error, a medical emergency, or a mechanical failure.

Christie said people should let the National Transportation Safety Board ‘‘do their work,’’ adding that ‘‘you don’t jump to conclusions, you let the facts lead you to the appropriate conclusion.’’

The NTSB also retrieved an event recorder from the locomotive at the rear of the train and investigators are waiting to download speed and braking information it contains.

Investigators haven’t been able to extract a second recorder from the forward-facing video camera in the train’s mangled first car because it is under a collapsed section of the train station’s roof.

The signals on the tracks leading to Hoboken Terminal appear to be working normally and officials completed a walking inspection of the track, finding nothing that would have affected the performance of the train, the NTSB said in an update Saturday.

Investigators have obtained video from other trains that were inside the train station when the crash occurred.

Signs posted at a New Jersey Transit maintenance facility in Hoboken, dated February, said there had been 10 incidents involving trains in the prior two months, including five derailments.

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The signs said the ‘‘serious incidents reflect a dangerous trend’’ and that the main cause of the incidents appeared to be caused by human error.

In August, two transit agency buses collided in Newark, resulting in the deaths of one driver and a passenger. Last week, two transit buses bound for Manhattan collided in the Lincoln Tunnel, injuring dozens of passengers.

A spokesman for New Jersey Transit didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

New Jersey Transit is the nation’s third-busiest commuter system, transporting many of the people who live in northern New Jersey, but work in New York City.

Like many transit agencies, the agency has been financially squeezed and has seen many veterans depart from leadership positions, including its executive director, Veronique Hakim, who resigned last year to join the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York.

The man selected to fill Hakim’s position turned down the job, leaving New Jersey Transit in the hands of an interim director.

The agency also is dealing with a $45 million budget gap.

New Jersey lawmakers reached a stalemate recently over how to finance the state’s transportation trust fund, which pays for New Jersey Transit projects, and roads and bridges.