NTSB: New York train was going 82 mph when it derailed


The National Transportation Safety Board reported that figure based on preliminary data from the event recorders taken from the locomotive and another car, NTSB member Earl Weener told reporters. The data showed the engineer cut the throttle six seconds before the locomotive came to rest and applied the brakes five seconds before, a move Weener said came “very late in the game.”


But the engineer, William Rockefeller, and the rest of the train crew were still being questioned Monday afternoon, and the cause of the derailment has not yet been determined, Weener said.


“This is raw data off the event recorders, so it tells us what happened. It doesn’t tell us why it happened,” Weener said.


Four people died in the Sunday morning crash on New York’s Metro-North commuter line, about 10 miles north of Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal. At least 67 more were hurt; of those, 19 remained hospitalized Monday evening, with three of them in critical condition, hospitals told CNN.


Rockefeller told investigators he applied the brakes, but the train didn’t slow down, according to a law enforcement official who was at the scene and is familiar with the investigation. Weener said authorities will be looking at the engineer’s recent work history and will examine his mobile phone, which is now in the hands of authorities.


Weener said the NTSB has subpoenaed the engineer’s phone records. But a senior law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told CNN that a preliminary review found no reason to believe Rockefeller was using the phone at the time of the crash.


The derailment occurred on the Metro-North Hudson Line, which carried 15.9 million people last year. About 150 were aboard when the train derailed, authorities said. The force of the crash ripped apart the rails and a section of the track bed, leaving chunks of concrete strewn about the scene.


The train’s recorded speed is not only far faster than the rated speed for the curve where the derailment occurred, it’s faster than the 70 mph posted for the section of track that led into the curve, Weener said.


U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who appeared with Weener, said the speed report “sort of takes your breath away.”


“For a train to be going 82 mph around that curve is just a frightening thought,” said Schumer, D-New York. “The fact that it was going 82 mph even in the 70-mph zones before the curve started raises so many questions and is scary.”


Investigators have seen no indication of brake problems, Weener said. Schumer said the tracks appear to have been in good shape, and the preliminary indication is that signals were working properly — “but it’s premature to blame anyone or anything right now,” he added.

‘It was just smoke’

Despite the high speed, surviving passenger Amanda Swanson said she felt the wreck in slow motion.


All seven passenger cars jumped the tracks, the windows of the coaches broke out and then, “gravel came flying up in our faces,” said Swanson, 26.


“I really didn’t know if I would survive,” she said. “The train felt like it was on its side and dragging for a long time.”


Swanson, a waitress on her way to work at a Midtown Manhattan restaurant, put her bag in front of her face to block the rubble as the car she was riding in flipped over and skidded to a stop with a thud.


“I couldn’t see anything,” she told CNN’s “New Day.” “It was just smoke.”

As the dust settled, she saw fellow passengers staggering out of the train and heard them moaning for help.


“I just closed my eyes and kind of hoped to God that I was going to be able to call my mom with decent news,” she said. Swanson managed to get off the train carrying her cell phone, its screen shattered but still working.


Workers lifted the rail cars back onto the tracks on Monday, and police determined no other bodies were trapped in the wreckage. Beth Barret, who sent photos to CNN’s iReport, called the scene “very surreal and very scary.”


“It was a scene straight out of a sci-fi movie,” Barret said.

Cameras may have caught deadly derailment


It’s not the first time a train jumped the tracks on that turn. A freight train derailed in the same curve in July, damaging about 1,500 feet of track, the Metropolitan Transit Authority reported at the time.


Mary Schiavo, a former inspector-general for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said investigators should take a close look at the sharp curve.


“It has been there forever, but the fact that we’ve had other accidents there means we have to look beyond just the fact that the train engineer said that brakes were not working,” she said. “We have to see if there’s additional issues concerning that track.”


Weener said the agency would look into whether there was any connection between the July derailment and Sunday’s crash, but both he and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo discounted the possibility.


“The curve has been here for many, many years, right, and trains take the curve every day, 365 days a year … We’ve always had this configuration. We didn’t have accidents,” Cuomo said Sunday. “So there has to be another factor.”


Authorities also are looking for video that may have captured the derailment, safety board spokesman Keith Holloway said. Railroad officials have said there were no video cameras aboard the train.


Weener said security cameras from a nearby bridge captured the train’s approach, but the image is small and obscured by a cloud of dust. Video technicians in Washington will try to recover some usable imagery from the recording, he told CNN’s “The Situation Room.”


Metro-North Railroad inspects its tracks twice a week, spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said. The most recent inspection found the track was “OK for normal operations.”


She said the train wasn’t equipped with positive train control — a high-tech system designed to slow down or stop trains to prevent crashes caused by human error.


Anders said the railroad conducted routine drug and alcohol tests on crew members but has not released the results. Rockefeller appeared coherent at the scene, and there was no indication he was intoxicated, said a high-ranking law enforcement official who is part of the investigation.


Anthony Bottalico, general chairman of the union that represents Rockefeller and the train’s conductors, said the crew members are also eager to find out what caused the crash and “make sure it doesn’t ever happen again.”


“Hopefully over the next day or two, there will be some kind of idea or closure,” he said.

The victims


The MTA identified those killed as Donna L. Smith, 54, of Newburgh, New York; James G. Lovell, 58, of Cold Spring, New York; James M. Ferrari, 59, of Montrose, New York; and Ahn Kisook, 35, of Queens, New York.


Lovell did freelance audio and was headed into New York to work Sunday morning, said Dave Merandy, a town council member in the Hudson Valley community of Philipstown.

“He loved his family and did what was necessary to keep things afloat with his family. He was a great man,” Merandy said.


One of the survivors suffered a spinal cord injury that could leave him paralyzed from the neck down, said Dr. David Listman, director of the emergency department at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. The man is the father of a 14-year-old boy who was released from the hospital Sunday.

“It’s hard to understand how they were sitting next to each other on the train, and the son walks away with minor bruises, and the father sustained such a severe injury,” Listman said.


While patients with severe fractures could be released from the hospital Monday, he said, they may require further treatment and mental health care after surviving the devastating accident.


“For a lot of these people, the train was their way of commuting to work. I think a lot of these people are going to have to contend with getting back to normal life,” he said. “I think that’s going to be very difficult for them.”


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