Clues Sought in Deadly New York Train Derailment
Rescue workers arrived within minutes to find all seven cars of the train off the tracks.
Passengers were dozing early Sunday as Metro-North's No. 8808 train headed into a sharp curve on tracks overlooking the roiling waters where the Harlem and Hudson rivers meet.
Just after 7:20 a.m., the screeching sound of metal on metal pierced the quiet cars. Residents in nearby homes heard loud bangs and saw train cars wobbling toward the water. Snoozing passengers were jolted awake when rocks, dirt and other debris flew into their faces through shattered windows as the cars tipped over and slid along the ground.
Three passengers were hurled from the train to their deaths. A fourth died inside the wreckage, which was such a tightly tangled mess that rescue workers had to cut people free from the metal, glass and dislodged seats. More than 60 people were injured in the latest accident involving New York's Metro-North Railroad.
"Our mission is to understand not just what happened but why it happened, with the intent of preventing it from happening again," Earl Weener of the National Transportation Safety Board said in a news briefing Sunday evening shortly after a team from the federal agency arrived to begin an investigation.
As darkness fell over the wreckage about 10 miles north of Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal, Weener said investigators already had downloaded data from an "event recorder" on the train, which they hoped would determine its speed and other details.
The derailment occurred in the Spuyten Duyvil neighborhood of the Bronx, just north of Metro-North's Spuyten Duyvil station. The speed limit is 30 mph at the bend in the track, compared with 70 mph on straight sections of track.
Residents who live near the tracks said they were accustomed to train noises, but this one was different.
Jodie Colon was getting ready for church when she heard "boom, boom, boom" from outside. "It was really loud," Colon said.
Dick Conley was walking his dog in the early morning chill when he heard an "unusual" noise. "Screeching. Not the typical train noise," he said. "I see this train wobbling toward the water."
Inside one car, Amanda Swanson was dozing as she headed to work. Swanson, who spoke to CNN and to WABC in New York, said the tilting of the car woke her up. "As the train started to tilt farther, once it had hit the ground on its side, the windows had blown out and gravel ... pelted in every possible direction," she said.
She put her handbag in front of her face for protection and tried to hold herself in place as the train tumbled and slid, finally coming to a stop.
Rescue workers arrived within minutes to find all seven cars of the train off the tracks, as well as the locomotive that had been pushing it toward Grand Central.
Some passengers managed to get out of the wreckage on their own. Others were trapped inside. Most said they had no idea what was happening until people and debris began flying through the cars.
"It was like a movie scene," said Ryan Kelly, who was not seriously injured. "By the time I realized what was going on, everyone was getting thrown around."
Cheryl Patton tried to shout a warning. "As we were going over, I screamed at my two friends, 'We're going over,'" she said.
Emily Miyaucci said she thought the train began going faster before the crash. "Then everything just went sideways," she said.
It was the first crash to cause passenger fatalities in the 30-year history of Metro-North. The railroad, the nation's second busiest in terms of monthly ridership, has had a rocky few months, starting in May when two of its trains collided in Connecticut, injuring dozens of people.
The same month, a train hit and killed a Metro-North conductor on the tracks. The NTSB said that accident occurred when a section of track was erroneously put back into service.
Ten cars of a 24-car freight train derailed on a different section of track near Spuyten Duyvil in July, but nobody was injured.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the track where Sunday's derailment occurred was "dangerous by design" because of the curve, but he added: "That curve has been here for many, many years.... We didn't have accidents. So there has to be another factor."
Officials said about 100 people were on the train, which left Poughkeepsie at 5:54 a.m. and was due into Grand Central at 7:43 a.m. Had it been a weekday, they said, the casualty toll would have been far higher.
"Thankfully it wasn't tomorrow morning," said Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. "That's the only silver lining."
(c) 2013 McClatchy News Service