(The Bronx, New York – December 1, 2013)
Probably the heaviest day for travel annually received a jolt Sunday morning at about 7:20 A.M. as a Grand Central Station, New York City-bound Metro North passenger train emanating from Poughkeepsie, NY derailed the first five cars of its heavily-loaded seven car consist just about 100 yards west of the Spuyten-Duyvil rail station in The Bronx borough of New York City, NY. Many of the train’s passengers were returning home from Thanksgiving weekend activities.
The wreck, which seemed to occur as the train rounded a tight turn within sight of the station, left four passengers dead and at least 60 injured, 11 of them critically. The train was in the “push” position of operation, with the locomotive at the rear and the locomotive engineer located in the lead passenger car’s “control cab”. The engineer was among the injured, but was conscious and talking to rescuers and investigators who responded to the tragedy. According to one report, the engineer said he activated the train’s brakes as it approached the curve, but the brakes failed to slow the train down.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo arrived at the scene at about 9:00 A.M., and participated in a news conference with Metro North/Metropolitan Transit Authority officials.
The train’s first two cars were on their sides, with the cab car only a few feet from the bank of the Harlem River. All four dead, who included three men and a woman, were aboard the overturned cars, and three were thrown from the cars as they slid to a stop.
Major injuries reported included at least one spinal cord injury and numerous bone fractures.
Law enforcement authorities said no indication of any criminal activity was suspected, and that all aboard the train were accounted for.
MTA Spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said that the curve in question was in a 30 mph restricted speed area, coming out of 70 mph track, and that the train’s “black box” recorder would be examined to determine clues to causes of the wreck.
Thomas Prendergast, MTA Chairman, said that train speed would be “one of the factors” to be investigated.
One passenger, Dennis O’Neil, said he believed the train was going too fast and that he was thrown against a window. Another passenger, Steven Ciccone, who was returning home from a Thanksgiving celebration, said that “All of a sudden, it (the train) started to shudder, and then it started to slip.” Prior to that, he said that “There was absolutely nothing suspicious happening on the train.” Meanwhile, a third passenger, Frank Tatulli, who said he has been taking the same train every Sunday morning, stated that the train was travelling a lot faster than it usually does.
Among the injured was Joel Zaritsky, who was on his way to a dental convention in Manhattan. He recalled that “I was asleep and I woke up when the car started rolling several times. Then I saw the gravel (track ballast) coming at me and I heard people screaming.”
A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived on the scene early Sunday afternoon.
The past six months have been a safety nightmare for Metro North, beginning on May 17 when an eastbound train derailed in Bridgeport, CT, only to be struck by a westbound train, injuring 73 passengers. A few days later on May 28, an MTA track foreman was struck and killed by a passenger train in West Haven, CT, after a dispatcher sent a train into a supposedly-secure area where the victim was working. And on July 18, a CSX freight train traveling on MTA rails derailed 10 cars of garbage in nearly the same area as Sunday’s tragedy.
To make matters worse, Metro North Chief Engineer Robert Puciloski told members of an NTSB committee investigating the first two tragedies that the railroad was “behind in several areas” which included a five-year schedule of cyclical maintenance that had not been conducted in the area of the Bridgeport derailment since 2005.