On September 19, the canopy covering the platform at the old Dinky station collapsed shortly after demolition workers had left for the day.
The canopy awning, which had sheltered commuters traveling between Princeton and Princeton Junction, fell onto the bed of the railroad track. No one was injured.
After the collapse, Princeton Council asked Princeton University for a report of the incident which occurred as work is being done for the University’s Arts and Transit project.
Turner Construction Company is at work on this project and had hired subcontractor LVI Demolition Services, Inc. to remove the canopy.
After the accident Turner Construction was issued a fine of $2,000 by Princeton’s building department for doing work without a permit.
The report was prepared by Edward M. Card of Turner Construction and submitted to the University on October 7 and to the Princeton Council on Tuesday, October 15.
It is clear from the report that neither Turner Construction nor its demolition subcontractor put temporary supports in place to hold up the canopy while it was being removed as is customary in such cases.
The report, which makes no mention of temporary supports, describes the events on the day of the accident. Representatives of Turner and LVI met at 7 a.m. to plan for the canopy demolition. At around 2:30 p.m., LVI workers cut a two-foot wide section of the canopy connecting it to the station building in preparation for the removal of the canopy during the next two days. They then left for the day at 3:15 p.m.
According to the report, an LVI foreman and a Turner superintendent saw no evidence that the canopy was misaligned or exhibiting stress. The canopy collapsed at around 4:30 p.m.
Emergency rescue teams from multiple state and local agencies were called in to find out if anyone had been trapped in the debris. They worked until about 9:30 p.m. at which time clean up operations began.
When asked Monday about the report, Princeton Administrator Bob Bruschi said in an email: “Our building/construction people have looked at it and I’m satisfied. As far as going forward they will follow the normal procedures. We look at this as a very unfortunate anomaly. The university is always very good at moving through the permitting process and adhering to all of the laws. They didn’t expect it to come down.”
But Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller was highly critical of the report, describing it as “inadequate to say the least.” On Monday, she commented: “If it was offered as a reassurance of some sort, it did the exact opposite. But I doubt the University is satisfied either.”
According to Ms. Crumiller, the report fails to answer the basic questions “of why precautions were not taken to avoid the collapse of the structure, why the possibility of the collapse does not seem to have been anticipated and why it was apparently a surprise. The report describes construction company workers cutting out sections of the canopy that connected it to the buildings, leaving, and then the canopy collapsing after they left. It’s as if they had no idea what they were doing.”
As for future safety, Ms. Crumiller wants to know what the University and its construction company are doing. “Our construction permitting process is intended to ensure safety. The University should explain why its contractor failed to apply for the proper permit.”
In a memo accompanying the Turner Construction report, Town engineer Robert V. Kiser wrote that the University will, as a “precautionary measure,” engage a “peer review of the demolition work plans for the two remaining structures to be removed in connection with the arts and transit project.”
“They [the University] have taken other measures to make sure they adhere to all permits and safety standards. If they follow the normal procedures as they have in the past and there have been no problems I would fully expect that there would be no problems in the future,” said Mr. Bruschi.
The Arts and Transit development and the new Dinky station located about 460 feet south of the old station are scheduled to open in the fall of 2017.
The report from Turner Construction will be on the agenda for discussion by Princeton Council when it meets in public session Monday, October 28 at 7 p.m. in Witherspoon Hall.