Fatal train wreck snarls NY commute

8:54 AM, Dec 2, 2013   |    comments
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NEW YORK - The Poughkeepsie train station, which is normally jammed with commuters, was desolate Monday morning as riders sought alternate transportation into New York City because of Sunday's deadly train derailment that left a critical stretch of commuter rail impassable.

The station, from which the ill-fated train had left, still had plenty of parking available at 6:45 a.m. Monday, the Poughkeepsie Journal reports.

Four people were killed and more than 60 people were injured when the Metro-North train jumped the track on the Hudson Line just north of the Spuyten Duyvil station about 7:20 a.m.

The locomotive and seven cars jumped the tracks, throwing many passengers through the windows as the cars tumbled to the water's edge where the Harlem River meets the Hudson River.

"I was asleep and I woke up when the car started rolling several times," said Joel Zaritsky, 50, of LaGrange. "Then I saw the gravel coming at me, and I heard people screaming. There was smoke everywhere and debris. People were thrown to the other side of the train."

Metropolitan Transport Authority spokesman Aaron Donovan said Monday that cranes are in the process of hoisting the tilted Metro-North car that was connected to the locomotive back on the track. The locomotive already was righted.

Although the authority warned commuters to expect crowded trains on Monday morning, it also provided shuttle buses which appeared to be easing the congestion. Donovan said no major delays were reported during the early part of the rush hour.

Metro-North, which normally carries 26,000 weekday riders, began running bus service on Sunday for stranded passengers, allowing them to take a bus from Tarrytown, on the Hudson Line, to White Plains, where they could pick up a Harlem Line train headed to New York City.

David Ortiz, 40, of the City of Poughkeepsie, was taking the training Monday morning, but said he would have to take a bus in the middle of the commute, adding 40 minutes to the trip into New York City.

"I'm hoping that they'll figure something else out today, because, you know, I commute all week," Ortiz said. "I'm going to have to get back here the same way. I haven't figured that part out, either."

Transportation investigators left little hope of a quick return to normal. Earl Weener, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at the news conference that the agency expects to be at the derailment site for a week to 10 days.

After documenting the condition of the cars and other components of the scene, "We will then turn the rail over to Metro North who will then ... get the line back in operation.''

Authorities retrieved a second data recorder Monday from the train's front car, said Earl Weener, of the National Transportation Safety Board. The other recorder was found earlier in the rear locomotive.

Investigators trying to determine the cause of the crash planned to interview the engineer and conductor of the train.

Weener said investigators are looking for information on the speed of the train, how the brakes were applied and the throttle setting. He said they've already had some success in retrieving data, but the information has to be validated before it's made public.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who visited the scene, said Monday that he thinks speed will turn out to be a factor in the derailment . He told NBC's Today show that other possible factors ranged from equipment failure and operator failure to a track problem.

Train engineer Bill Rockefeller, who was being treated for injuries, told officials the brakes did not respond when he applied them as the train approached the curve, the Daily News reports.

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the train operator was banged around, but conscious and alert and was able to give police a brief statement before being taken to a hospital. Asked about reports that the engineer said that he'd applied the brakes, but that the train did not respond, Kelly said: "I'm not in a position to confirm or deny that at this point."

The Hudson Line is the least busy of the three Metro-North train lines that carry passengers into Grand Central Station. Still, on a weekday, it ferries thousands of passengers, many of whom trek into New York City for work but call the more affordable suburbs to the north home, said Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

On Sunday, service on the other two Metro-North Lines that head into midtown Manhattan were not disrupted by the accident.

Amtrak, which shares tracks with the crippled Hudson Line, briefly suspended its service between New York City and Albany, but it resumed service shortly after 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

Officials said the accident is the second passenger train derailment in six months for Metro-North Railroad and the first passenger death in an accident in its nearly 31-year history.

In July, 10 cars loaded with garbage on a CSX freight train also derailed near the Spuyten Duyvil station.

"It's a very, very narrow area," senior MTA board member James L. Sedore Jr. said of the station area. "When we had the problem with the CSX, the feeling I got - it was nothing official - some of the cars were not loaded correctly. The middle car swayed."

 

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