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1:48 am
Mon December 2, 2013

Deadly Derailment Is Latest Accident For N.Y. Commuter Train Line

Originally published on Mon December 2, 2013 1:30 pm

A commuter train crash that left four people dead and dozens injured Sunday in the Bronx is the most serious among a number of incidents in the past year for Metro-North Railroad.

As the investigation into what caused the derailment continued Monday, thousands of commuters were looking for alternate ways in and out of New York City.

The commuter train was making the roughly 80-mile journey from Poughkeepsie south to Grand Central Terminal. Much of the route hugs the Hudson River, and when trains reach the Bronx, they take a sharp turn at the spot where the Harlem and Hudson rivers meet.

It was there, just outside the Spuyten Duyvil station, at roughly 7:20 Sunday morning, that the seven-car train hit the curve and went off the rails.

"By the time I looked up it was completely going off its track, and there was just like the rubble from under the tracks flying at my face," said an unidentified female passenger, who told WABC-TV that she was lucky to be in a car where no one was hurt.

At the crash site, the severity of the derailment was clear, and neighbors and onlookers gathered at an overlook near the crash.

Recent Freight Train Crash

Geraldine Hayes, who lives nearby, said Sunday's disaster reminds her of another incident this year.

"It's really sad, and we had a derailment on the other side of the curve about three months ago with the garbage. So I think it's important to find out what happened," she said.

This past summer, a freight train carrying trash derailed, causing significant damage to the track. 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," he said.

Weener said a crane will soon lift the train cars to stop a fuel spill and to make sure there aren't more bodies beneath the wreckage.

There were also questions about that sharp curve. Could that have played a role? At the scene, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to quell that speculation.

"The curve has been here for many, many years, right, and trains take the curve 365 days a year. So it's not the fact that there's a curve here," he said.

First Passenger Deaths On Metro-North

This is the first time passengers have died in an accident in Metro-North's more than 30-year history. But Sunday's derailment adds to one of the train line's worst years for safety. In May, two Metro-North trains collided in Connecticut, injuring more than 70 people.

NTSB chair Deborah Hersman told CNN the agency is looking into Metro-North's record.

"We are investigating several accidents that have occurred on Metro-North's property over the last eight months. So, we will be looking at precursor events ... maybe close calls prior to this that could have given Metro-North some indication that this was an area they needed to pay attention to," she said.

The NTSB says it plans to remain on the site for the next seven to 10 days, and investigators will spend that time inspecting the train, tracks and maintenance records. The NTSB says it already has data from the train's black boxes.

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

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

New Yorkers are still reflecting on a deadly commuter train crash yesterday morning. The train derailed in an accident that's left thousands of commuters this morning looking for alternate ways in and out of the city.

As NPR's Dan Bobkoff reports, this is the most serious incident on a train line that's already had a series of accidents this year.

DAN BOBKOFF, BYLINE: The Metro-North commuter train was making the roughly 80-mile journey from Poughkeepsie south to Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Much of the route hugs the Hudson River, and when trains reach the Bronx, they take a sharp turn right at the spot where the Harlem and Hudson Rivers meet. It was here at roughly 7:20 Sunday morning that the seven-car train hit the curve and went off the rails.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: By the time I looked up it was completely going off its track and there was just like the rubble from under the tracks like flying like at my face.

BOBKOFF: That woman was a passenger on the train and told WABC-TV that she was lucky to be in a car where no one was hurt. She was lucky. Dozens of others were injured, some critically and four people died.

(SOUNDBITE OF A TRAIN)

BOBKOFF: At the crash site, the severity of the derailment was clear. I'm standing above the Spuyten Duyvil train station here in the Bronx. The train is mere feet from the platform, but it has veered off to the right about a hundred feet from the track, landing just inches from the Harlem River.

Neighbors and onlookers gathered an overlook near the crash. Geraldine Hayes lives nearby. She says Sunday's disaster reminds her of another incident this year.

GERALDINE HAYES: It's really sad. And we had a derailment on the other side of the curve about three months ago with the garbage. So I think it's important to find out what happened.

BOBKOFF: This past summer, a freight train carrying trash derailed, causing significant damage to the track. At a Sunday news conference, Earl Weener of the National Transportation Safety Board was asked whether the freight derailment contributed to Sunday's accident.

EARL WEENER: And the answer is we'll be looking at that. But at this point in time, we have no indication that it's a factor.

BOBKOFF: Weener said a crane will soon lift the train cars to stop a fuel spill. And to make sure there aren't more bodies beneath the wreckage.

There were also questions about that sharp curve. Could that have played a role? New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, at the scene, tried to quell that speculation.

GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO: You know, the curve has been here for many, many years, right? And trains take the curve every day of - 365 days a year. So, it's not the fact that there's a curve here.

BOBKOFF: This is the first time passengers have died in an accident in Metro-North's more than 30-year history. But Sunday's derailment adds to one of the train line's worst years for safety. In May, two Metro-North trains collided in Connecticut, injuring more than 70 people.

NTSB chair Deborah Hersman told CNN the agency is looking into Metro-North's record.

DEBORAH HERSMAN: We are investigating several accidents that have occurred on Metro-North's property over the last eight months. And so we will be looking at precursor events; things that maybe close calls prior to this, that could have given Metro-North some indication that this was an area they needed to pay attention to.

BOBKOFF: The NTSB says it plans to remain on the site for the next seven to 10 days. And investigators will spend that time inspecting the train, tracks and maintenance records. The NTSB says it already has data from the train's black boxes.

Dan Bobkoff, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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