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NTSB: Metro-North train was going too fast at curve before wreck

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New York Train Crash

By FRANK ELTMAN and JIM FITZGERALD

YONKERS, N.Y. (AP) - A commuter train that derailed over the weekend, killing four passengers, was hurtling at 82 mph as it entered a 30 mph curve, a federal investigator said Monday. But whether the wreck was the result of human error or brake trouble was still unclear, he said.

Asked why the train was going so fast, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said: "That's the question we need to answer."

Weener said the information on the locomotive's speed was preliminary and extracted from the Metro-North train's two data recorders, taken from the wreckage after the Sunday morning accident in the Bronx.

He also said investigators had begun interviewing the crew members, but he would not disclose what the engineer had told them.

Weener said the throttle went to idle six seconds before the derailed train came to a complete stop - "very late in the game" for a train going that fast" - and the brakes were fully engaged five seconds before the train stopped.

He said investigators were also examining the engineer's cellphone - apparently to determine whether he was operating the train while distracted.

Asked whether the tragedy was the result of human error or faulty brakes, Weener said: "The answer is, at this point in time, we can't tell."

As investigators mined the data recorders for information, workers righted the fallen cars along the curve, a bend so sharp that the speed limit during the approach drops from 70 mph to 30 mph.

The wreck came two years before the federal government's deadline for Metro-North and other railroads to install automatic-slowdown technology designed to prevent catastrophic accidents. But with the cause of Sunday's wreck unknown, it was not clear whether the technology would have made a difference.

The engineer, William Rockefeller, was injured and "is totally traumatized by everything that has happened," said Anthony Bottalico, executive director of the rail employees union. He said Rockefeller, 46, was cooperating fully with investigators.

"He's a sincere human being with an impeccable record that I know of. He's diligent and competent," Bottalico said. Rockefeller has been an engineer for about 11 years and a Metro-North employee for about 20, he said.

The NTSB has been urging railroads for decades to install technology that can stop wrecks caused by excessive speed or other problems. Congress in 2008 required dozens of railroads, including Metro-North, to install the "positive train control" systems by 2015.

But the systems are expensive and complicated and cannot prevent an accident if there is a brake failure. Railroads are trying to push back the deadline a few years.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs Metro-North, awarded $428 million in contracts in September to develop the system for Metro-North and its sister Long Island Rail Road. But the MTA has asked for an extension on the deadline to 2018, saying it faces technological and other hurdles in installing such a system across more than 1,000 rail cars and 1,200 miles of track.

While the train's seven cars and locomotive were gradually returned to their tracks Monday, the 26,000 weekday riders on the railroad's affected Hudson Line faced a complicated commute.

Many used shuttle buses and cars to get to work. But no major delays were reported during the early rush hour, railroad spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

Marketing worker Leanne Bloom normally takes the Hudson Line to work but drove to a stop on another line instead. She was surprised to find the train nearly empty.

"I was expecting long lines" at the station, she said. "But I made it very easily."

On Sunday, the train was about half full, with about 150 people aboard, when it ran off the rails around 7:20 a.m. while rounding a bend where the Harlem and Hudson rivers meet. The lead car landed inches from the water. In addition to the four people killed, more than 60 were injured.

Many victims had been released from hospitals by Monday afternoon.

Seven were still in an intensive-care unit at St. Barnabas Hospital, some with spinal injuries, emergency department director Dr. David Listman said. And two patients were reported in critical condition at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

The injured included five police officers who were heading to work, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and a 14-year-old boy who was taking a weekend ride with his father on the same train the youngster usually takes to school.

The train's assistant conductor, Maria Herbert, suffered an eye injury and a broken collarbone, Bottalico said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on NBC's "Today" show that he thinks speed will turn out to be a factor in a crash he called "your worst nightmare."

The MTA identified the dead as Donna L. Smith, 54, of Newburgh; James G. Lovell, 58, of Cold Spring; James M. Ferrari, 59, of Montrose; and Ahn Kisook, 35, of Queens. Three of the dead were found outside the train; one was inside.

Lovell, an audio technician who had worked the "Today" show and other NBC programs, was traveling to Manhattan to work on the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, longtime friend Janet Barton said. The tree-lighting ceremony is Wednesday night.

"He always had a smile on his face and was quick to share a friendly greeting," ''Today" executive producer Don Nash said in a message to staffers.

The derailment came amid a troubled year for Metro-North, and marked the first time in the railroad's 31-year history that a passenger was killed in an accident.

In May, a train derailed in Bridgeport, Conn., and was struck by a train coming in the opposite direction, injuring 73 passengers, two engineers and a conductor. In July, a freight train full of garbage derailed near the site of Sunday's wreck.


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277 Comments
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Curtis December 03 2013 at 11:09 AM

I'm told by a friend who rides that very train evey day, that speeding around that particular curve is a daily occurance. Luckely he was not on it this weekend! Must have been the lack of body weight in the cars that didn't hold the train on the tracks this Sunday.
Less weight, faster speed, and less counter weights on the chassis ie People Weight!

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denadmartinez December 03 2013 at 10:54 AM

The stinky part is that the communers are going to pay for the hike in prices and the cost of this wreage has to go somewhere, errors happen we know this but he only has one job, the sleep at the wheel and zoning out happens to everyone he proabally didnt have adeqaute sleep, coffee etcetc..I pray for those familes who lost someone ni this wreck..accidents happen the good part is that trains do not just accident every day this is a mistake anyone could make zoning out is real and happens to us all esspecially if not enough sleep or stressed.

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Mr. Alan December 03 2013 at 10:30 AM

Fact: The train was going way too fast. Fact: 4 people were killed and 60 were injured. Speculation: The train driver did something wrong. Speculation: The brakes failed. Be reasonable, people. Let's wait for a verdict before we pass sentence.

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tomrip1 December 03 2013 at 10:21 AM

Cost cutting again....not having 2 people in the cab, awful. Human error for sure...technical safeguards for this in the future? next to impossible. Time to publicize getting 2 people driving now (not a cure-but better) so as to assure future riders of better safety....and oh yeah, the current cel-phone use cultural upheaval?....seems like one of the larger problems of many, it's created.

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Joanna Kourtakis December 03 2013 at 10:11 AM

It is very sad and hurtful story.
joanna k

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brbrbca December 03 2013 at 10:09 AM

The train was going too fast around the curve! Well even a nitwit can figure that one out! What's the use of this breaking news????????? I'm done with online news and network television news, all for sensationalism!! PATHETIC!!!

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1 reply to brbrbca's comment
luftweg December 03 2013 at 12:32 PM

yes, this whole shouting 'breaking news' on EVERYTHING, especially when there is nothing, or not much, new to say is clearly a way to sell more viewing..... but, after all, it IS a business and that's what makes the money to pay everyone

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Stan the man December 03 2013 at 9:49 AM

Let's wait till the investigation is over before we pass judgement on anyone !

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unklkevin December 03 2013 at 9:43 AM

According to the radio news, this morning, the driver has told investigators that he just 'zoned out!". Many comments, seem to assume some sort of distraction. Yes, it would be a drag to learn he was 'texting', or phoning, or maybe just playing with himself! It seems to be a case of 'road hypnosis'(?).

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beniehill December 03 2013 at 9:41 AM

Much like Obamacare doing 82 in a 30 mph curve.

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2 replies to beniehill's comment
pjsass December 03 2013 at 10:04 AM

what a ridculous comment to a serious and tragic story. Four people are dead and dozens hurt, some tragically.

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uptownxxpress December 03 2013 at 10:24 AM

You are a pathetic a**hole who heaps blame on the President for all the problems in the world. Grow up you immature jerk! You can only be rresponsible for what you, yourself, have done and disrepecting others is a malignancy that will get you in the end.

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Owen December 03 2013 at 9:39 AM

this engineer was probably texting, or some other stupid act, now that inocent people were killedand there was no mechinaical failure of the train,, he will surely be charged with man slaughter
deservedly so.........for being stupid!!

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2 replies to Owen's comment
Lew Tripp December 03 2013 at 10:02 AM

Put brain in gear before opening mouth. Not much is known yet.

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pjsass December 03 2013 at 10:05 AM

We DO NOT know this. We only know the train was traveling too fast. It could have been as a result of faulty breaks or human error or a combination of both. Until we know all of the answers we should not make conclusions based on guesses.

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1 reply to pjsass's comment
rwilliamhoward December 03 2013 at 10:13 AM

Yeah, but... It was going 82 MPH when it hit the curve, designed for 30 MPH. The preceeding trackage was limited to 70 MPH. That's 12 over before the curve. Making up time? I'd rather be late arriving than go off the track. 12 over is Ticket Time on the roads. How about on the RAILroads?

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