Both derailments resulted in minor injuries and temporarily suspended Amtrak and NJT service between New York and Newark on the Northeast Corridor. Long Island Rail Road service was also disrupted.
The NJT train involved in the April 3 incident was a 10-car Bombardier MultiLevel consist powered by a Bombardier ALP-46 electric locomotive, which was hauling (pulling) the train. The fifth, sixth and seventh cars derailed; only the front cars of the train reached the platform. Approximately 1,200 people were on board. All were evacuated safely. The NJT train sideswiped by the Acela Express on March 24 was also equipped with MultiLevels.
While both derailments are under investigation by officials from the railroads involved (PSNY’s physical plant is owned and maintained by Amtrak; train dispatching is shared between Amtrak and LIRR), the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, early speculation is pointing to track-related causes. The interlocking plant at Penn Station New York, where two North (Hudson) River tunnel tracks fan out to connect with 19 of 21 platform tracks, is highly complex, containing numerous double-slip switches and other special trackwork.
The interlocking plant, though it has been modified over the years and its trackwork replaced numerous times, hasn’t changed very much since the Pennsylvania Railroad originally designed and installed it in 1910. Although it is designed to AREMA specifications and standards, much of it, when it requires replacement, must be custom-fabricated, as it is unique to that interlocking plant.
Unlike its single-level coaches, which vary in design, components, age and carbuilder, and which are often mixed within a single consist, NJT operates its MultiLevels in dedicated trainsets, powered mostly by either Bombardier ALP46 electric locomotives or ALP45-DP dual-power units. As such, in-train train dynamic forces (buff and draft, which can occur even with tightlock couplers) tend to be minimal, as the microprocessor-controlled braking equipment is identical among railcars and very closely matched to that of the locomotives, which typically employ blended (regenerative dynamic plus electro-pneumatic) brakes. Thousands of MultiLevel-equipped trains have operated through PSNY without incident since this equipment was first placed into service in 2006. It’s therefore reasonable to deduce that the April 3 derailment is most likely not equipment-related.