Federal authorities blasted a New York railroad Wednesday, following the derailment of a speeding commuter train that killed four people and injured more than 60.
Joseph Szabo, the head of the Federal Railroad Administration, said in a letter that his administration and the US Transportation Department ''have serious concerns'' following by Sunday's train accident and three others that occurred in New York and Connecticut from May through July.
Szabo noted that a federal team has been working closely with Metro-North Railroad and New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority. But he said ''immediate corrective action is imperative.''
The MTA said the safety of its customers ''has always been, and will always continue to be'' its top priority. It said a panel is conducting a comprehensive probe of the ''safety culture'' throughout the MTA and it looks forward to further work with federal officials.
The engineer whose train ran off the rails Sunday in the borough of the Bronx experienced a hypnosis-like ''daze'' and nodded at the controls just before the wreck, according to his lawyer and a union leader. By the time he caught himself it was too late.
Attorney Jeffrey Chartier accompanied engineer William Rockefeller to his interview with National Transportation Safety Board investigators and described the account Rockefeller gave Tuesday. Chartier said the engineer experienced a nod or ''a daze,'' almost like road fatigue or the phenomenon sometimes called highway hypnosis. He couldn't say how long it lasted.
What Rockefeller remembers is ''operating the train, coming to a section where the track was still clear - then, all of a sudden, feeling something was wrong and hitting the brakes,'' Chartier said.
He called Rockefeller ''a guy with a stellar record who, I believe, did nothing wrong.''
Rockefeller ''basically nodded,'' said Anthony Bottalico, leader of the rail employees union, relating what he said the engineer told him.
Federal investigators said late Tuesday they had removed Bottalico's union, the Association of Commuter Rail Employees, as a participant in the investigation over a breach of confidentiality after he publicly discussed information related to it. They wouldn't comment on Rockefeller's level of alertness around the time of the Sunday morning wreck in the Bronx.
Separately, however, two law enforcement officials said the engineer told police at the scene that his mind was wandering before he realized the train was in trouble, and by then it was too late to do anything about it. One