By VERENA DOBNIK and DEEPTI HAJELA
NEW YORK —
A New York City commuter train rounding a riverside curve derailed Sunday, killing four people and injuring more than 60 in a crash that threw some riders from toppling cars and swiftly raised questions about whether excessive speed, mechanical problems or human error could have played a role.
Some of the roughly 150 passengers on the early morning Metro-North train from Poughkeepsie to Manhattan were jolted from sleep around 7:20 a.m. to screams and the frightening sensation of their compartment rolling over on a bend in the Bronx where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet. When the motion stopped, all seven cars and the locomotive had lurched off the rails, and the lead car was only inches from the water. It was the latest accident in a troubled year for the nation’s second-biggest commuter railroad, which had never experienced passenger death in an accident in its 31-year history.
Joel Zaritsky was dozing as he traveled to a dental convention aboard the train. He woke up to feel his car overturning several times.
“Then I saw the gravel coming at me, and I heard people screaming,” he told The Associated Press, holding his bloody right hand. “There was smoke everywhere and debris. People were thrown to the other side of the train.”
In their efforts to find passengers, rescuers shattered windows, searched nearby woods and waters and used pneumatic jacks and air bags to peer under wreckage.
National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said investigators had not yet spoken to the train conductor, who was among the injured.
Investigators were due to examine factors ranging from the track condition to the crew’s performance. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the track did not appear to be faulty, leaving speed as a possible culprit for the crash. The speed limit on the curve is 30 mph, compared with 70 mph in the area approaching it, Weener said.
Authorities did not yet know how fast the train was traveling but had found a data recorder, he said.
One passenger, Frank Tatulli, told WABC-TV that the train appeared to be going “a lot faster” than usual as it approached the sharp curve near the Spuyten Duyvil station.
Within minutes, dozens of emergency crews arrived and carried passengers away on stretchers, some wearing neck braces. Others, bloodied and scratched, held ice packs to their heads.
Two men and two women were killed, said the Metropolitan Transporta-tion Authority, which runs the railroad. Three of the dead were found outside the train, and one was found inside, authorities said. The victims’ names had not yet been released. Autopsies were scheduled for Monday, said the New York City medical examiner’s office.
Eleven of the injured were believed to be critically wounded and another six seriously hurt, according to the Fire Department.
To Cuomo, the scene “looked like a toy train set that was mangled by some super-powerful force,” the governor said in a phone interview with CNN.
As deadly as the derailment was, the toll could have been far greater had it happened on a weekday, or had the lead car plunged into the water instead of nearing it. The train was about half-full at the time of the crash, rail officials said.