NTSB: Train was traveling 82 mph before crash

5:54 PM, Dec 2, 2013   |    comments
A rail crew works at the scene of the fatal Metro-North train derailment on December 2, 2013 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (John Moore/Getty Images)
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(USA Today) -- A Metro-North commuter train was traveling 82 mph before it derailed on a 30 mph curve Sunday, killing killing four people and injuring more than 60, federal investigators said Monday.

Earl Weener of the National Transportation Safety Board said data from the train's recording devices revealed that its throttle went to zero just six seconds before the train crashed, and that brake pressure went to zero only five seconds before the accident.

The speed zone leading up to the curve is 70 mph, Weener said at an afternoon news briefing.

He said it's not yet known whether the accident was caused by equipment failure or human error. Investigators were "not aware of any problems or anomalies with the brakes," he said.

The engineer has been operating trains for about 20 years and "has a good reputation." Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said at the briefing.

"When I heard about the speed, I gulped," Schumer said.

Investigators Monday retrieved the second data recorder from the wreckage of the train, which derailed north of New York City,

Weener said it was found in the car of the train that landed precariously close to the edge of the water where the Hudson and Harlem rivers come together.

The first recorder was located in the locomotive that was pushing the train from the rear.

Investigators trying to determine the cause of the crash planned to interview the engineer and conductor of the train.

Train engineer Bill Rockefeller, who was being treated for injuries, has told officials the brakes did not respond when he applied them as the train approached the curve, the New York Daily News reports.

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the train operator was banged around, but conscious and alert after the accident and was able to give police a brief statement before being taken to a hospital. Asked about reports that the engineer said that he'd applied the brakes, but that the train did not respond, Kelly said: "I'm not in a position to confirm or deny that at this point."

Weener said investigators are looking for information on the speed of the train, how the brakes were applied and the throttle setting. He said they've already had some success in retrieving data, but the information has to be validated before it's made public.

He said he expects the NTSB to be at the derailment site for a week to 10 days. After documenting the condition of the cars and other components of the scene, "We will then turn the rail over to Metro-North who will then ... get the line back in operation,'' Weener said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who visited the scene, said Monday that he thinks speed will turn out to be a factor in the derailment. He told NBC's Today show that other possible factors ranged from equipment failure and operator failure to a track problem.

The cars jumped the tracks as the train was rounding a sharp curve. Twenty-six of the injured, including two Metro-North employees, remained hospitalized Monday; Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Aaron Donovan said cranes were hoisting the tilted Metro-North car that was connected to the locomotive back on the track. The locomotive already was righted.

Some of the 26,000 weekday commuters who normally take Metro-North into New York City endured a much longer trip Monday as they had to switch to buses to get around the area of the derailment.

Rodney McLean, of Beacon, normally needs only an hour and 15 minutes to get to his office on Wall Street. But Monday, it took him 2 1/2 hours just to get from Beacon to Yonkers, making a stop at every station along the way.

From Yonkers he was boarding a bus that would take him around the crash site to a subway stop in the Bronx where he would catch the final leg of the journey. The bus and subway portion would add as much as 45 minutes more, making the day's commute well over three hours,The Journal News reports.

The Poughkeepsie train station in New York, from which the ill-fated train had left Sunday morning, was desolate Monday morning. The normally full parking lot still had plenty of spaces at 6:45 a.m, the Poughkeepsie Journal reports, as commuters took alternate transportation.

David Ortiz, 40, of Poughkeepsie, was one of the few taking the train Monday morning, but said he would have to take a bus in the middle of the trip, adding 40 minutes to the ride into New York City.

"I'm hoping that they'll figure something else out today, because, you know, I commute all week," Ortiz said. "I'm going to have to get back here the same way. I haven't figured that part out, either."

Amtrak, which shares tracks with the crippled Hudson Line, suspended its service between New York City and Albany, N.Y., after the tragedy but resumed service shortly after 3 p.m. Sunday.

Officials said the accident is the second passenger train derailment in six months for Metro-North Railroad and the first passenger death in an accident in its nearly 31-year history.

In July, 10 cars loaded with garbage on a CSX freight train also derailed near the Spuyten Duyvil station.

"It's a very, very narrow area," senior MTA board member James Sedore Jr. said of the station area. "When we had the problem with the CSX, the feeling I got - it was nothing official - some of the cars were not loaded correctly. The middle car swayed."

RELATED STORIES

* NTSB to upright train, seek other possible victims
* Railroad awaits word on cause of derailment

(USA Today)

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