After a New Jersey commuter train crashed into the Hoboken station, killing one woman and injuring more than 100 people, it became clear that there would be no quick answer to what caused the accident. But that didn’t stop East Social Media Editor Michael Sisak from wanting to know more about the deeper issues plaguing New Jersey Transit.
Sisak began diving into federal data and, working with New York-based freelancer Michael Balsamo and Newark reporter David Porter, discovered that the transit agency had paid more in fines for safety violations than any other commuter railroad in the country over the past five years. It also had a significantly higher accident rate than the rest of the nation’s 10 largest commuter railroads.
Sisak found that New Jersey Transit’s accident rate of 2.7 incidents per million miles traveled was nearly a full accident per million miles higher than that of the second most accident-prone railroad, the Chicago area’s Metra. He also found the number of accidents where human behavior was a factor was 13 percent higher than the next closest railroad.
The story came after a series of beats by Balsamo following the accident, including that investigators believed the train was going at least double the speed limit before the crash, and details on a federal audit.
Sisak and Balsamo’s pace-setting coverage of the safety concerns raised by the crash led to a call for an independent investigation by a New Jersey lawmaker.
Sisak and Balsamo’s pace-setting coverage of the safety concerns raised by the crash led to a call for an independent investigation by a New Jersey lawmaker. A group of Democrats in Congress have also cited media reporting on New Jersey Transit in its calls for federal transportation officials to take a closer look at the transit agency.
To compile the analysis, Sisak was able to rely on historical data that he had saved from his work reporting on last year’s Amtrak crash in Philadelphia. Porter’s experience covering New Jersey Transit and interviews with experts helped to turn the raw numbers into a digestible and interesting story for readers.
Because New Jersey Transit was unhelpful in answering questions about these safety concerns or anything else related to the crash, Porter worked his sources to connect with federal railroad officials to confirm Sisak’s interpretation of the data.
Sisak’s data analysis was presented as a visualization through AP’s pilot project with Graphiq, and Sisak also put together a smart Twitter GIF card to promote the story on social media.
For exploring deeper issues raised by a breaking news story through analysis of public data, Sisak, Balsamo and Porter win this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.