Does Metro-North Have a Catastrophic Curve?

Two derailments in one year on one stretch of track

Sunday, December 01, 2013 - 12:20 PM


Sunday's deadly Metro-North commuter train crash happened less than 2,000 feet from the the site of another derailment earlier this year along the same stretch of curving riverside track in the southern Bronx.

The Spuyten Duyvil section of track is considered a "slow zone" by the Metropolitan Transit Agency because of the tight curves, two of which come in quick succession flanked by the river on one side and steep rocks on the other. 

Our old post sites the old crash with a photo from google maps and I remember it being in the narrow ravine between the rocks where the big Columbia C is painted. You can see it in the photo too. Or zoom in on it again for the exact same image here in Google Maps. 
Today's crash is pretty easy to locate based on this photo from the north which shows orientation in relation to the two bridges and this one from the southeast in relation to the curved stretch of track.

In July a CSX fright train carrying tons of garbage toppled over in a ravine close to where the rail right-of-way narrows from four tracks to two, which limited re-railing and recovery efforts. You can see a close up of the site of that crash as seen from Google Maps in our previous post. It's just where the large Columbia University 'C' is painted on the rocky cliffs. 

Today's crash is about 1,800 feet along the track to the Northwest. It's easy to locate based on this photo from the north which shows orientation in relation to the two bridges and this one from the southeast in relation to the curved stretch of track.

It's two tight turns in close proximity with dangerous landscape flanking the track in both cases. It's too soon to know if excessive speed, operator error, equipment failure or another factor is the cause of this deadly accident, but Spuyten Duyvil is accumulating a menacing track record for 2013. 

Most of the track we're talking about was under water during Sandy as WNYC's floodmap shows




Comments [6]

Who owns this stretch of track and operates it? Both accidents seem to point to some problems with maintenance of the track and the right of way, and with rebuilding the rail bed after flooding caused by Sandy (was that even done??) — in spite of the high speed of the train entering a curve in the latest accident.

A related point: There is a record of accidents caused by CSX's inadequate attention to safety — including one a few years ago with an Amtrak Empire Service train caused by CSX track workers. CSX has not had a good relationship with Amtrak, and Amtrak has had to constantly badger CSX to improve or even bring up to to standard the right of way on which both passenger and freight trains operate. This fight over rail turf is only gradually being won by Amtrak; could MetroNorth be having the same issues with CSX?

I have talked with many Amtrak conductors and attendants, and their observations and opinions support what I say.

Are there similar issues to the one above regarding MetroNorth, Amtrak, and CSX — all of whom operate on the track in question? The ultimate solutions is to get CSX off passenger rail, and get passenger service off of freight right of way!

Dec. 03 2013 01:50 AM

In my mind, a 30 MPH curve has no place on a modern passenger rail line. That is an appropriate speed for some backwoods freight siding. Particularly where the speed drops 40 MPH. That is a set-up for an accident. The only place an engineer should be slowing radically is in stations. This is common throughout the Northeast, as the routes are old and the area is now dense. However, if safety is a real priority then super-slow curves need to be engineered out of passenger rail operations.

Dec. 02 2013 07:40 PM
Tom from Flordia

Two accidents in one year after Hurricane Sandy make me wonder if the flooding could have caused softening or settling of the roadbed in that area. Otherwise, I'd say it was just excessive speed, like the Talgo crash in Spain.

Dec. 02 2013 04:08 PM

Is this a new track? No, not at all. I'd guess it's over a 100 years old, so two problems in a single year is a operational crisis but I doubt it is a design one...

Dec. 02 2013 09:36 AM
Bup from NY

Can the architect of the curve be held responsible?
or let's move forward and get rid of the curve/cut and put in a tunnel.

Dec. 02 2013 09:33 AM
bill wolfe from bordentown, nj

The train engineer is quoted in multiple stories to says the brakes did not work as he attempted to slow the train from 70 mph to the 30 mph curve speed. Gov. Cuomo relied on those reports as well.

Given that statement was reported in multiple news outlets, so, it surely trumps speculation about track conditions, Sandy, and prior derailments - pending NTSB investigation report.

Dec. 01 2013 06:21 PM

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