Nation & World News

Investigators Examine Wreckage Of Deadly New York Train Crash

By Bill Chappell on December 2nd, 2013

The investigation into the cause of a New York train derailment that killed four people has begun, even as workers sift through wreckage to be sure they’ve found everyone on the seven-car train. At least 60 people were injured in the crash Sunday morning. The train’s black box recorder has been found.

“The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of investigators who arrived on Sunday and immediately began documenting the scene,” according to New York’s transit agency, MTA. “Metro-North is cooperating fully with that investigation.”

As of Monday morning, investigators are looking at why the commuter train that had been heading to Grand Central Station failed to slow down enough to negotiate a curve in the Bronx, an area where the speed limit drops from about 70 mph to about 30 mph. The train’s engineer has said he tried to apply the brakes, the New York Daily News and other news outlets report.

Update at 9:55 a.m. ET: The Victims’ Names

All of those killed were from New York, MTA Police say. The agency identified the dead as Donna Smith, 54, of Newburgh; Ahn Kisook, 35, of Queens; Jim Lovell, 58, of Cold Spring; and James Ferrari, 59, of Montrose.

Our original post continues:

Sunday evening, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said federal investigators should look at procedures on the train line. And he dismissed early speculation that the track’s curve, which comes just before a station, was the culprit.

“The curve has been here for many, many years. Trains take the curve every day, 365 days a year. So it’s not the fact that there’s a curve here,” Cuomo said. “We’ve always had this configuration [but] we didn’t have accidents, so there has to be another factor, and that’s what we want to learn from the NTSB. If there’s a change that the MTA can make, that’s great, but first we have to get the results of the investigation. It can’t just be the curve.”

The Metro-North Railroad train was carrying more than 100 people when it went off the rails, sending uncoupled cars into the trees that line the track near the convergence of the Harlem and Hudson rivers. The passenger cars were being pushed by a diesel locomotive.

Late Sunday and into the night, officials were using cranes and other heavy equipment to set the scattered cars upright and clear the wreckage.

From NBC New York:

“The train’s black box was recovered Sunday evening and will be analyzed for data. Sources say investigators are looking at operational error and mechanical failure as possible causes of a train taking the curve too fast.”

The train’s operator, William Rockefeller, 46, is among those injured in the crash, reports the New York Post.

“The guy’s distraught over the accident and the people who were injured,” the paper reports, citing a source.

The New York Times describes other passengers as “department store employees who were bracing for another busy after-Thanksgiving day, tourists from Texas who wanted to climb the Statue of Liberty, a police officer moonlighting as a security guard on his day off.”

As Dan Bobkoff reports for Morning Edition, the crash comes after several other less-serious incidents on the same train line.

“This past summer, a freight train carrying trash derailed, causing significant damage to the track,” Dan reports. “At a Sunday news conference, Earl Weener of the National Transportation Safety Board was asked whether the freight derailment contributed to the latest accident.”

“The answer is, we’ll be looking at that, but at this point in time we have no indication that it’s a factor,” Weener said.

As the work week begins, New York transportation officials are adjusting their schedules to help the reported 26,000 people who use the Hudson Line tracks on an average weekday.

Sunday’s crash occurred in an area called Spuyten Duyvil, a Dutch name with several interpretations. One of them is “Spouting Devil,” a reference to the nearby water’s churning currents; others include “Spite the Devil,” a phrase widely attributed to writer Washington Irving.

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