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Probe launched into cause of New York train derailment

The train may have been speeding when it veered off the rails in the Bronx borough yesterday.

The scene of the train derailment yesterday.
The scene of the train derailment yesterday.
Image: Mark Lennihan/AP/PA

FEDERAL AUTHORITIES IN the US are today beginning to probe how and why a New York City commuter train derailed over the Thanksgiving weekend, killing four, injuring more than 60, and nearly plunging into a freezing river.

Officials have warned the 26,000 weekday commuters on the affected line that to brace for crowded trains during the morning commute as the investigation gets started.

The train may have been speeding when it veered off the rails in the Bronx borough at around 7.20am local time yesterday as it headed south to Grand Central Station in Manhattan.

The New York Fire Department said four people were killed, 11 others seriously injured, and another 56 suffered minor wounds.

Some passengers were “impaled” by debris as train cars flew into the air, officials said, while others had to be cut free from tangled metal.

“People were screaming,” Joel Zaritsky told The New York Times. “I found myself thrown to the other side of the train.”

Many survivors had broken limbs or injuries to their heads or necks. Some were led away with bloodied faces.

Investigation

Investigators combed the scene and announced that a “multi-disciplinary team” would probe everything from the condition of the tracks to the signaling systems and the brakes.

imageNational Transportation Safety Board board member Earl Weener speaks during a news conference alongside New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, right, at the scene (Image: John Minchillo/AP/PA).

“Our mission is to understand not just what happened, but why it happened, with the intent of preventing it from happening again,” Earl Weener, a National Transportation Safety Board official, told reporters.

Weener said the train’s event recorder – similar to an airplane’s “black box” – had been recovered.

The data “will say how fast the train was traveling and whether or not the brakes were applied,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in earlier remarks to broadcaster MSNBC.

Speaking alongside Weener, Cuomo said a crane was on its way to the scene to right the derailed train cars.

That, according to Weener, was to check for any more victims and stop fuel from leaking from the locomotive.

Investigators will interview the train crew and conductor in the next days, Weener said. He expected investigators to remain on site for up to 10 days.

Failed brakes

The Times, citing a senior city official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, reported that the train operator told first responders the brakes had failed. The account however had not been confirmed.

At least one passenger said the train was speeding as it took a curve on a downward slope leading into Spuyten Duyvil station, just north of Manhattan.

Before reaching the station, the train’s seven cars derailed and flew across a grassy bank separating the railroad from the Hudson and Harlem rivers, which meet at that point.

The front car came to rest only a few feet from the water, and two cars toppled on their side.

image

(Image: Craig Ruttle/AP/PA)

Three of the dead were thrown from the train, police said, and divers searched the rivers in case other passengers were hurled into the frigid water.

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Officials said there were some 120 passengers aboard the train when it flew off the tracks.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority identified the four victims, who ranged in age from 35 to 59. Two were men, two were women, and all were New York-area US citizens.

‘A lot faster than normal’

Passenger Frank Tatulli, who escaped with injuries to his head and neck, told WABC TV that the commuter train was going “a lot faster” than normal as it went into the bend. Other travelers gave similar accounts.

The curved section of track leading into Spuyten Duyvil is a slow speed area.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged to learn from any “lessons” the investigation reveals.

The White House said President Barack Obama was briefed on the accident.

Train services were suspended because of the derailment, which occurred at the end of America’s travel-heavy Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

A freight train derailed on a nearby stretch of track earlier this year. Weener said there was no indication that this was a factor in yesterday’s incident, but said it would be considered in the probe.

- © AFP 2013 with additional reporting from Associated Press.

Related: Four dead, 63 injured as passenger train derails in New York City>

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