New York commuter train was above posted speed limit before crash

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 01, 2013 9:14 AM
New York commuter train was above posted speed limit before crash

By Curtis Skinner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York commuter rail train that derailed on Sunday morning, killing four people, was traveling at more than double the posted speed limit for the curved track where it crashed, officials said on Monday.

A National Transportation Safety Board review of the black box data recorders on the Metro-North train showed that the seven-car train was traveling at 82 miles per hour before it entered the curve, which has a posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour, said Earl Weener, an NTSB board member leading the probe.

The posted speed limit before the curve was 70 miles per hour, Weener said, adding that the train's throttle was reduced to idle six seconds before derailing and the brakes were activated five seconds before the accident, which injured 11 people critically

That was "very late in the game" for the brakes to have been activated, Weener said. He declined to say whether the derailment was the result of operator error.

"At this point in time, we can't tell," Weener told reporters. "At this point in time, the data is preliminary."

It was the latest in a string of problems to affect the railroad, including a May derailment in Connecticut that injured more than 70 people.

Service was suspended on the line, which serves 26,000 commuters on an average weekday, between the village of Tarrytown and Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal, according to the state's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the parent company of Metro-North.

The MTA was providing bus service as an alternative and urged Westchester County residents to use Metro-North's Harlem line in place of its Hudson line, where the accident happened.

The railroad warned that service would remain limited on Tuesday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said it is unclear how long it will take the NTSB to review the "black box" data recorder.

"They haven't given us a time frame," Cuomo told NBC's "Today" on Monday. New York officials hope to get rail service on the commuter line back up by week's end, he added.

As for the root cause of the derailment, officials "haven't gotten anything specific from the NTSB," but it could have been a track problem, an equipment malfunction or operator error, Cuomo said.

Although the tracks at the site included a "tricky turn," Cuomo said, "It's not about the turn. I think it's going to turn out to be about the speed more than anything and the operator's operation of the train at that time."

Work crews on Monday used cranes and heavy equipment to lift the derailed cars back onto the tracks, a first step toward clearing the scene and returning the tracks to service. Some sections of track were twisted and broken by the force of the accident.

The crash happened about 100 yards (meters) north of Metro North's Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx, an area where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet. One car was toppled near the water.

(Additional reporting by David Gaffen and Susan Heavey; Writing by Scott Malone, Editing by Nick Zieminski)