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High Speed Viewed as Potential Cause of Fatal Metro-North Train Derailment

Dec 3, 2013

High speed may have been a factor in the Metro-North commuter train derailment in the Bronx this past weekend, a calamity that claimed four lives and injured scores of passengers. The accident occurred about 10 miles outside New York City.

The crash occurred at a 30-mile-per-hour (mph) curve. The doomed train was traveling at a speed of up to about 82 mph, about 2-½ times faster than the posted speed for the curve, according to preliminary National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) information, FoxNews reported.

About 150 people were on board at the time of the derailment.NTSB board member Earl Weener said that it is too early to determine whether human error or faulty equipment led to the fatal derailment. “That’s the question we need to answer,” Weener added.

However, Weener, speaking at a press conference with Democratic Senators Charles Schumer (New York) and Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), did note that the train had been traveling at excessively high speeds when it went into the curve—speeds too high for the 70 mph zone that the train had first passed through before reaching that 30 mph curve near the Spuyten Duyvil station on Metro-North’s Hudson Line. The curve is one of the steepest in the Metro-North system, according to The New York Times.

Four people died in the train derailment, and scores of passengers were injured, some seriously. Metro-North’s Spuyten Duyvil station is located where the Hudson and Harlem rivers converge; this also marks the location of the sharp curve.

Some are speculating that high speed caused the locomotive to derail as it reached the curve, all seven cars falling, some landing inches from the two rivers, noted FoxNews. Two data recorders and some “low quality” surveillance footage shot from an area bridge have been recovered and are now under examination, Weener said.

The train’s conductor has been given drug and alcohol testing; his cellphone also was collected, The New York Times reported. The engineer, William Rockefeller, has already undergone a preliminarily interview with the NTSB; and the interviews will be ongoing “for the next couple of days,” Weener said, FoxNews reported.

Rockefeller told investigators that he tried to hit the brakes when the train hit the bend, but that the brakes were not functioning, The New York Post reported, citing law enforcement sources. Those sources said that Rockefeller was a 20-year MTA employee with a clean disciplinary record.

The New York Times reported that the train’s throttle was found to be still engaged at the time of the derailment. This means that the engine was receiving power—and had continued to receive power—until a mere six seconds before the locomotive, located at the rear of the train, reached a complete stop. The power shift happened “very late in the game,” Weener said.

Authorities pointed out that the train’s brakes appeared to be functioning properly just prior to the crash.

“We are not aware of any problems or anomalies with the brakes,” Weener was quoted saying by The New York Times.

Senator Schumer noted that “The train did make nine stops before coming to this curve. So clearly the brakes were working a short time before [the incident].” Schumer said that the NTSB indicated that the tracks appeared to be in proper condition.

The derailment is considered the deadliest train crash in the MTA system’s history, according to law enforcement officials for the authority. Three of the dead were found outside the train cars, and one was found inside, authorities said. Autopsies are in progress, according to The New York Times.

Earlier this year, two trains collided in Bridgeport, Connecticut—a westbound train crashed into an eastbound, derailing the eastbound train and injuring 73 passengers, two engineers, and a conductor, according to FoxNews.

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