I-Team: Black Boxes Have Failed on Other Trains, Too | NBC Bay Area
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I-Team: Black Boxes Have Failed on Other Trains, Too

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    NEWSLETTERS

    As investigators continue sift through the damage left behind by the New Jersey transit train crash in Hoboken we’ve learned from previous accident reports that event recorders are not always indestructible and fail-safe. Chris Glorioso reports. (Published Monday, Oct. 3, 2016)

    The so-called “black box" recorder that failed to capture data about last week's crash of a NJ Transit train was manufactured by a company called Quantum Engineering, whose devices also failed to capture key details about another train accident in 2006, the I-Team has learned. 

    In 2006, when two locomotives derailed near Baxter, California, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board sought to extract data from two the onboard data recorders.

    According to the NTSB investigative report, "both locomotive units had Quantum event recorders," but "neither recorder had recorded anything." Authors of the report also noted, that the event recorders "had not been serviced since 1996," a full decade before the derailment. 

    Coincidentally, 1996 is the same year one of the black boxes failed on board a NJ Transit train that crashed near Secaucus, killing three people. The accident report does not say if the inoperative black box was made by Quantum, but another data recorder on the train did capture information about the crash.

    Siemens now owns the Quantum brand.

    Annie Satow, a spokeswoman for Siemens, declined to answer questions about how the data recorder may have malfunctioned in Hoboken, instead emailing a short statement: "The event recorder from the rear of the train was manufactured by Quantum, a company acquired by Invensys in 2008. Siemens subsequently acquired Invensys in 2012. As the NTSB's investigation is ongoing, please coordinate directly with the agency for further information." 

    The locomotives involved in both last week's Hoboken crash and the 1996 Secaucus crash were refurbished – converted for passenger use in the 1990s after years pushing and pulling freight cars in previous years. That makes the locomotive that crashed in Hoboken more than 22 years old.

    Neither NJ Transit nor the NTSB nor the Federal Railroad Administration would say whether data recorders were upgraded on dozens of other freight locomotives that were also converted for passenger use in the 1990s.