Shocker: New York City derailed train nearly three times over speed limit

Written by PTI | New York City | Updated: Dec 3 2013, 20:48pm hrs
TrainA New York City derailed train which killed four people and injured 63 others was travelling at a shocking speed of 82 miles per hour ? nearly three times faster than the recommended limit - when it veered off the tracks along a curve, authorities said.
A New York City derailed train which killed four people and injured 63 others was travelling at a shocking speed of 82 miles per hour nearly three times faster than the recommended limit - when it veered off the tracks along a curve, authorities said.

"Preliminary information shows that the train, bound for New York City, was travelling at approximately 82 miles per hour as it went into a 30 miles an hour curve," NationalTransportation Safety Board board member Earl Weener told reporters here.

Weener said the investigation into the crash is ongoing and it was yet soon to say whether the derailment was caused by human error or faulty equipment.

The throttle was engaged until six seconds before the locomotive came to a stop on its side, and the brakes were fully applied only five seconds before, Weener said.

That is "very late in the game."

Weener said the investigation would focus primarily on not only when the brakes were applied but also why the train was traveling at such a speed that itrequired an emergency maneuver.

He said it was unclear if the engineer of the train, who is a 20-year veteran, hit the brakes and they failed, or that he tried to slowdown when it was too late.

"The question is: Was this human error or faulty equipment And the answer is at this point in time we can't tell. We do know that two minutes before the curvethe train was going at 60 miles per hour and had accelerated then up to 82 miles per hour prior to entering the curve," Weener said.

Investigators have recovered the black box of the train as well as data recorders and are also interviewing the train's engineer and conductor and three crewmembers.

The engineer of the train has been identified as William Rockefeller, who had been injured in the crash and will continue to be interviewed by authoritiesover the next few days.

Weener said drug and alcohol tests have been conducted but the results were not yet available.

Rockefeller's cellphone has also been recovered as part of theinvestigation, Weener added. The authorities are also examining surveillance video from a bridge near the site.

A Metropolitan Transportation Authority official said Rockefeller has told emergency medical workers that he "dumped the brakes" when he saw that the train washeading into the curve at a fast speed.

The curve where the train derailed is in a slow-speed area, where the speed limit is 30 mph.

The area just before the curve isa 70 mph limit and by every standard the train was over-speeding.

"The zone leading up to the curve was an 70 miles an hour zone. At 82 miles an hour, the train was in excess of that speed," Weener said.

New York City Senator Charles Schumer said any conclusions about the cause of the excessive speed would be "premature."

"When I heard about the speed, I gulped. It kind of takes your breath away," Schumer said at the press conference.

"There's one obvious point here, which isthat the train did make nine stops before coming to this curve," he added.

"So clearly the brakes were working a short time before it came to this curve."

"It's beyond frightening. It's harrowing," said Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal.

The injured passengers were taken to a number of local hospitals. Of the 63 people injured, 11were critical.

The early morning Metro-North train from Poughkeepsie bound for Grand Central in New York City's Manhattan derailed while rounding a bend just north of the Spuyten Duyvilstation in a wooded area where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet and footage from the crash site showed that one rail car was lying toppled near the edge of the water.

Four cars on the seven-car train turned on their side, throwing unsuspecting passengers into the air.

The train had about 120 passengers on board and was not scheduled to stop at the Spuyten Duyvil station.

Weener said investigators would be carefully reviewing all data to review the functioning of the brakes throughout the trip and extensive investigations wouldcontinue for the next 7-10 days.

New York City Governor Andrew Cuomo said earlier that he feels the accident was speed-related.

"Three options are on the table," Cuomo said on the TODAY show at NBC News.

"Problem with the track, equipment problem or operator error. I'm not an expert in thisfield. Working with the experts over the past day, I think it is going to be speed-related. It was a tricky turn on the system, but it is a turn that has been therefor decades."

The derailment has impacted daily commutes of thousands of people who use the Metro-North train service to get into Manhattan for work from New York's suburbs.

Head of the train employees union Association of Commuter Rail Employees Anthony Bottalico said the engineer has an "impeccable" job record and is cooperatingwith investigators.

Bottalico said Rockefeller has "never been disciplined on his job on the railroad" and was scheduled to meet with NTSB officials. "He's very traumatized," Bottalico said.

"He's devastated by the loss of life, by the injuries to the passengers and his fellow crew members, and he'sextremely upset about all of it."

Weener said that the tracks have been given to Metropolitan Transportation Authority for repair works.

Crews were working overtime to lift the derailed carsand clearing the scene to return the tracks to service.