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NYC Commuter Train Was Well Above Speed Limit Before Crash

Monday, December 02, 2013

Update at 6:50 p.m. ET. Speeding Into Curve; A Mile Or More To Safely Stop:

A commuter train headed into New York City was traveling at 82 mph Sunday morning when it entered a curve where the speed limit was supposed to be 30 mph and derailed, National Transportation Safety Board investigators have concluded. Four people on the train were killed and at least 60 others were injured.

The engine's throttle wasn't put into the "idle" position until about 6 seconds before the locomotive came to a thunderous halt as passengers cars flew off the rails, NTSB board member Earl Weener told reporters at a news conference late Monday afternoon.

That cut of power was "very late in the game," he said.

The engine's brakes, investigators believe, weren't fully applied until about 5 seconds before the engine came to a stop.

Investigators have also determined that the train was traveling above the speed limit in the zone immediately prior to the curve. In that zone, the speed limit was 70 mph, Weener said.

As for whether the accident was caused by human or mechanical error, Weener said it's too soon to say. He did note that the train had made 9 stops prior to the derailment.

Shortly after 5 p.m. ET, Weener told CNN that data indicate that 2 minutes before the crash the train had been going about 60 mph. It "accelerated into the curve," he said.

Later Monday, The Associated Press reported that "it takes about a mile for a train going 70 mph to [safely] stop, according to Steve Ditmeyer, a former Federal Railroad Administration official who now teaches at Michigan State University."

Our original post — "Investigators Examine Wreckage Of Deadly New York Train Crash" — and earlier updates follow:

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 4 p.m. ET. News Conference Shortly:

The NTSB is to hold a news conference within the next few minutes about its investigation so far. We'll update with news from it.

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.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Source: NPR

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