Metro-North derailment: New York commuter train was travelling at 82mph on 30mph bend before crashing in the Bronx, killing four people

Federal investigators unclear whether accident was the result of human error or mechanical trouble

A New York commuter train that derailed over the weekend killing four people was travelling at 82mph as it entered a 30mph bend, federal investigators have revealed.

Safety experts said the tragedy might have been prevented if Metro-North Railroad had installed automated crash-avoidance technology that safety authorities have been urging for decades, but admitted it was unclear whether the accident was the result of human error or mechanical trouble.

The speed was extracted from the train’s two data recorders after the accident, which occurred in the Bronx on Sunday morning on a bend so sharp that the speed limit drops from 70 to 30 mph.

National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener would not disclose what the engineer operating the train told investigators, and he said results of drug and alcohol tests were not yet available. Investigators are also examining the engineer's mobile phone, apparently to determine whether he was distracted.

The end of the train juts out over the river (AP) The end of the train juts out over the river (AP)  

The engineer, William Rockefeller, was injured and “is totally traumatized by everything that has happened,” said Anthony Bottalico, executive director of the rail employees union. He said Rockefeller, 46, was cooperating fully with investigators.

“He's a sincere human being with an impeccable record that I know of. He's diligent and competent,” Bottalico said. Rockefeller has been an engineer for about 11 years and a Metro-North employee for about 20, he said.

Weener sketched a scenario that suggested that the throttle was let up and the brakes were fully applied way too late to stave off disaster.

He said the throttle went to idle six seconds before the derailed train came to a complete stop — “very late in the game” for a train going that fast — and the brakes were fully engaged five seconds before the train stopped.

It takes about a mile for a train going 70 mph to stop, according to Steve Ditmeyer, a former Federal Railroad Administration official who now teaches at Michigan State University.

Asked whether the tragedy was the result of human error or faulty brakes, Weener said: “The answer is, at this point in time, we can't tell.”

But he said investigators are not aware of any problems with the brakes during the nine stops the train made before the derailment.

The wreck came two years before the federal government's deadline for Metro-North and other railroads to install automatic-slowdown technology designed to prevent catastrophes caused by human error.

Local media reports show the train derailed on the banks of the Hudson River, with reports of at least two deaths Local media reports show the train derailed on the banks of the Hudson River, with reports of at least two deaths

Metro-North's parent agency and other railroads have pressed the government to extend Congress' 2015 deadline a few years because of the cost and complexity of the Positive Train Control system, which uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains and stop them from colliding, derailing or going the wrong way.

Ditmeyer said the technology would have monitored the brakes and would not have allowed the train in Sunday's tragedy to exceed the speed limit.

“A properly installed PTC system would have prevented this train from crashing,” he said. “If the engineer would not have taken control of slowing the train down, the PTC system would have.”

On Sunday, the train was about half full, with about 150 people aboard, when it ran off the rails around 7:20 a.m. while rounding a bend where the Harlem and Hudson rivers meet. The lead car landed inches from the water. In addition to the four people killed, more than 60 were injured.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday the NTSB findings make it clear “extreme speed was a central cause” of the train derailment. He said his administration is working closely with the NTSB and when the investigation concludes he'll make sure “any responsible parties are held accountable.”

The train was configured with its locomotive in the back instead of the front. Weener said that is common, and a train's brakes work the same way no matter where the locomotive is. Ditmeyer said the locomotive's location has virtually no effect on train safety.

The dead were identified as Donna L. Smith, 54; James G. Lovell, 58; James M. Ferrari, 59; and Kisook Ahn, 35, an immigrant from South Korea.

The derailment came amid a troubled year for Metro-North, and marked the first time in the railroad's 31-year history that a passenger was killed in an accident.

In May, a train derailed in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and was struck by a train coming in the opposite direction, injuring 73 passengers, two engineers and a conductor. In July, a freight train full of garbage derailed near the site of Sunday's wreck.

Additional reporting AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'