Moments before a train crossing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge between Philadelphia and New Jersey fatally struck two construction workers during night work on Oct. 14, its engineer tried in vain to stop to avoid the collision, the National Transportation Safety Board says in a preliminary report.
The two-car Port Authority Transit Corp (PATCO) Hi-Speedline train heading west with 69 passengers “initiated emergency braking” moments before the accident around 9:20 p.m. on the bridge over the Delaware River, according to the safety agency report.
The collision killed Victor R. Martins and Donato G. Fiocca, who were identified by a Delaware building trades official as members of Cement Masons and Plasterers union Local No. 592 in Philadelphia. They entered a "close-clearance area" on the collision track before it was scheduled to be out of service.
The workers were confirmed as employees of JPC Group Inc., a subcontractor to project contractor Skanska Koch, Carteret, N.J., who were working on a portion of a $216.9-million rehabilitation project on the bridge, which carries train and road traffic, for the Delaware River Port Authority. The agency also operates the PATCO train system.
According to NTSB, the train’s “head-end stopped about 1.5 railcar lengths” beyond the point where the workers were struck. The westbound PATCO train was traveling at 33 mph on the track on the bridge’s northern side in conditions that were "dark and clear," its report says.
“Before the accident, a team of contractors arrived at the bridge to perform concrete work during a scheduled track outage,” NTSB says.
Agency investigators reviewed data from a bridge-mounted surveillance camera and images from the lead railcar’s inward-facing image recorder, inspected the involved railcars and completed interviews, adds the agency, which continues its probe.
NTSB says its probe is focusing on PATCO’s roadway worker protection program and regulatory oversight, with a further preliminary report set for December.
Also investigating are Skanska, the New Jersey Dept. of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Port Authority. They did not comment on the NTSB report or release information on their own probes. An OSHA report is expected to be issued by April.
An online Gofundme account set up by the union for Fiocca, a 25-year member and Martins, an eight-year member, has raised more than $24,300 as of mid-November.