To the Editor:
Thank you for your article on NJ Transit - "Fencing added around Watchung Station". It is also helpful - -albeit painful-- to see the statistics of NJ Transit fatalities and injuries summarized on available reports of fatalities.What is shocking is the fact that NJ Transit is still investigating itself regarding these fatalities; and that information about these deaths in Montclair is unavailable to the media through an examination of the 'black box' railroad agencies are required to send to Washington DC's Federal Railroad Administration.
You mention our son in your Sept. 12th article: Tony Anastasopoulos, 17 years old in August 2002, struck and killed by a NJ Transit train just west of the Watchung station.
Here is our story and urgent advice to the Township Council and the Governor of the State of NJ.
Walking with two friends - 14 and 16 year old girls - our son with two teen girls climbed the embankment and entered the Watchung Plaza trestle just west of Watchung Station as a shortcut to Watchung Plaza.The trestle built in the early twentieth century remains neglected and dangerous. Rotting wooden blocks placed about 2 feet apart as cheaply as possible underpin the steel laden tracks.As designed the trestle leaves no room for a pedestrian, worker, or anyone to escape an oncoming train by side stepping the passing train.
In Tony's case, the Montclair-Boonton Line engineer made a scheduled stop at Watchung enroute from Hoboken to Montclair State. The teens walked in single formation: Tony's girlfriend in front, another girl -14 years in the middle, and Tony at the end to warn the others in case an unscheduled train appeared from behind. The middle teen caught her shoe in between the wooden blocks and she could not move. The shoes had silk ties wrapped the lower ankle.The ties had to be broken to free her foot from the trestle and the oncoming train. Tony wrestled with the shoe looking ahead seeing the engineer start the train and accelerate toward the two teens. He fought to break the ties and picked up the girl in his arms and placed her on the side of the open embankment by the trestle. Tony then had to clear "3 short steps to safety" reported the Montclair Times. But the train accelerated too fast and it hit the side of his face hurling him off the trestle onto Valley Road. This fatality, like others mentioned, was investigated by NJ Transit Police employees paid directly from Transit. The 'witnesses' cited in the TAP article are invariably train crews, and various NJ Transit spokespeople. The engineer testified that he thought the teens were playing a game of "chicken" and following NJ Transit protocol they were deemed "trespassers" on private property.
Transit decided to put up a No Trespassing sign 3 days after Tony's death.
We filed a complaint in state court on behalf of the estate of Tony Anastasopoulos vs. Mahoney, et. al.NJ Transit refused to place a fence on the embankments like the article states they did this past June 18, 2019 at Bruce and Appleton Roads. They could have done so in 2002 and possibly saved the lives of our neighbors and friends who have perished since.
In addition, if anyone, the Governor, the Town Council, NJ Transit, the media, and so on is serious about making NJ Transit accountable for their negligence it has to start with forbidding the agency to investigate itself; holding officials at the agency accountable by issuing fines or witholding public taxpayer funds until the black boxes on trains with fatalities are examined by Washington, DC and cause of pedestrian death is determined; as well as extending the fencing added to Watchung station from milepost 15 to milepost 11.9 which includes the town of Montclair and its train stations.