Construction on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail through the former Weehawken Conrail tunnel continued last week after an accidental detonation of a blasting cap last Thursday sent four construction workers to the hospital.
According to reports from representatives from NJ Transit, which is overseeing the project, and 21st Century Rail, which is doing the actual construction work, a worker apparently hit an unattended blasting cap with a jackhammer around 7:30 a.m. last Thursday, causing the explosion.
Although emergency personnel were called from Weehawken to help with the rescue, the blasting accident actually took place around 48th Street and Bergenline Avenue, at the Union City-West New York border, where a Hudson-Bergen Light Rail station will eventually stand.
The operator of the jackhammer that touched the blasting cap suffered a shoulder injury. Another worker was injured when he was hit with falling debris caused by the blast.
Both men were treated at the Jersey City Medical Center and released.
Two other workers were treated for ear injuries, like ringing in the ears, caused by the loud blast inside the tunnel.
The tunnel was once used by Conrail for shipping cargo, but will now be used as part of the Light Rail that is expected to go from Weehawken through North Bergen by 2005.
Because of the explosion and injuries, work was suspended at the site until representatives from both the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the state Department of Labor conducted a thorough investigation by walking through the tunnel to determine whether it was safe to continue work.
After nearly six hours of investigation, work continued, and has continued through press time without any further incident.
Didn't know it was still there
The accident took place because a blasting cap was left unattended several days after other blasting was finished. The blasting is necessary to get through the rocks of the existing Palisades in order to build the Light Rail station.
However, the blasting was supposed to be completed, allowing workers to go back into the tunnel.
When the worker put the jackhammer to the rock, he had no idea that a blasting cap was still there.
While some workers complained to officials that the site was still unsafe, NJ Transit spokesperson Peggy Bassett-Hackett disagreed.
"We always have safety procedures in place and will proceed with those procedures," Bassett-Hackett said. "OSHA will return next week to continue with those procedures."
Weehawken Public Safety Director Jeff Welz said that this was the first time in two years of Light Rail construction that there was such an accident.
"We meet every two weeks with NJ TRANSIT and 21st Century Rail, as well as all the other utilities, to go over safety measures," Welz said. "We go over everything, like whether traffic will be disrupted, whether there is any danger. Everything has to be verified by me before work can be done. If the work is deemed unsafe, we shut them down. Since they enter the tunnel through Weehawken, it's our responsibility."
Welz said that there were some unsafe conditions in the past, and when that happened, the township ordered a halt on the construction until the conditions were secured.
"Honestly, we've shut them down several times during the course of the construction," Welz said. "We want to make sure that everything is safe there. The experts assured me that everything was fine after this accident, so we determined that they could continue to work in the safe environment."
Work has been moving rapidly to bring the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail from Hoboken into Weehawken by sometime next year.