The derailment of New York’s Metro-North Railroad commuter train has claimed the lives of four people and injured more than five dozen, prompting federal transportation authorities to launch an extensive investigation in search of answers.
News outlets report the train’s black box recorder has been located, and officials are scouring it for information that could shed some light on what exactly occurred in the moments before the crash, which happened with some 150 passengers on board. Eleven are said to be critically injured, while about six others have suffered injuries categorized as serious. Dozens more had broken bones, fractured ribs and major cuts and bruises.
Though still early in the investigative process, officials have already determined that speed was a factor in the New York train accident injuries. The speed around a sharp curve where the wreck happened is just 30 miles-per-hour. The stretch immediately preceding it is 70 miles-per-hour. The train was reportedly traveling at 82 miles-per-hour.
Investigators have said the train should have been slowing down long before it approached that curve near the Spuyten Duyvil station.
The engineer and operator, who was among those injured, was quoted by a number of news outlets as saying he attempted to apply the brakes. While this might indicate some type of mechanical failure, investigators so far believe there was no apparent problem with the train’s braking system.
The tracks also appear to have been in working condition.
Neighbors of the operator have described him as an avid motorcyclist who liked to “live on the edge.” That image has been disputed by his employer, who reported that he historically has stayed within the speed limit with his trains. The black box recorder should be able to tell investigators whether that was the case this time.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged investigators to explore in-depth the procedures for the train line. Cuomo was dismissive of any insinuation that the curve or speed limit was responsible. (Of course, it’s worth noting that the state could be held liable if that were the case, so Cuomo, while undoubtedly troubled by the tragedy, isn’t exactly an unbiased observer.)
A similar crash happened six months ago, when an eastbound train in Connecticut derailed and was struck by a westbound train, causing some 75 people to suffer injuries.
These incidents come decades after the National Transportation Safety Board began urging railroad companies to update its infrastructure and install technology that would help reduce the risk of derailment due to excessive speed and other issues.
Four years ago, Congress passed a rail-safety law that gave freight and commuter train companies until the end of 2015 to install positive train control systems, designed at preventing crashes resulting from human error (about 40 percent of all train wrecks). However, due to the heavy costs involved, rail companies are trying to get that deadline pushed back another five to seven years.
The Metro-North line is among a few that are in the process of installing those updates. Right now, the firm has a kind of technology known as “automatic train control,” which will apply brakes if the engineer doesn’t respond to an excessive speed alert. However, that will only slow the train in some cases, not stop it.
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Investigators Examine Wreckage Of Deadly New York Train Crash, Dec. 2, 2013, By Bill Chappell, NPR
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