By Marina Lopes
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York commuter train derailment that killed four people in December caused more than $9 million in damage, the National Transportation Safety Board said on Tuesday.
A preliminary report issued by the federal agency found the train's signal system, brakes and other mechanical equipment were functioning normally when all seven of its cars derailed in the Bronx.
The finding may bolster allegations that train engineer William Rockefeller, 46, was to blame for the crash. Investigators say Rockefeller told them he "zoned out" as the train sped through a curve at 82 miles per hour, (132 km per hour), nearly three times the speed limit.
The crash also critically injured 75 of the 115 people on board and snarled travel for the roughly 26,000 regular commuters on the Metro-North Hudson line, which serves suburbs north of New York City.
The report could be instrumental in determining whether the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the parent of Metro-North, will be held liable for the crash, legal experts said.
While the new information in the report adds evidence that human error may have caused the derailment, the MTA could still be held liable for the negligence of its employees under a common-law doctrine known as "vicarious liability," experts said shortly after the crash.
Michael Lamonsoff, a lawyer who represents 10 people injured in the derailment who have given legal notice they plan to sue, said the accident could have been prevented if an alert system had been properly installed.
"All these people were assuming they were traveling safely, but they were playing Russian roulette with the possibility of a human error that could have occurred," Lamonsoff said.
While the train was equipped with an alerting system in its rear car, sources told Reuters, the driver was running the train from a "control cab" at the front of the first passenger carriage.
(Reporting by Marina Lopes; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Steve Orlofsky)