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The Latest From The New York Train Derailment


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

A commuter train derailed as it was heading into Manhattan this morning, killing four people and injuring more than 60. Witnesses say the train appeared to be going too fast as it rounded a curve just north of a train station in the Bronx. The National Transportation Safety Board is trying to piece together what happened.

NPR's Jim Zarroli was on the scene of the accident today and joins me now. Jim, what do you know about what happened, and what have you learned about the damage?

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Well, this was a Metro-North train going from Poughkeepsie, which is a city in - along the Hudson River - in the Hudson River Valley, heading to Grand Central terminal in Manhattan. Very pretty route. It kind of runs along the river. About 7:20 this morning, the train was rounding a bend, heading toward Spuyten Duyvil, which is a little residential enclave in the Bronx kind of along the Hudson - the Harlem River. So as it was heading towards the station, it derailed.

Jeremy Gerard, who lives in the area, said the crash was so loud, he thought that a bridge nearby had actually fallen down.

JEREMY GERARD: And then a few minutes later, everyone started rushing down. And I saw the train derail, and I just couldn't believe my eyes. It looked like a - it looks like a toy train set.

RATH: Jim, there were a lot of injuries. How did most of them occur?

ZARROLI: Well, there were seven cars. When the train derailed, most of them fell over - fell on their side. A lot of the passengers inside were thrown around. The authorities said today that of the four people who died, three of them died - they were killed because of the injuries they sustained when they were thrown around. Eleven people critically injured.

You know, about the only good thing that you can say about this is that if it had been a weekday, there would've been a lot more people hurt or killed because it's a very popular route. But this was early Sunday morning, so the train wasn't as crowded as it normally is.

RATH: Is there any information so far about how the accident occurred?

ZARROLI: Well, the NTSB is looking into that, looking into what happened. They just held a press conference. They're sort of looking into various things: the signaling system, the condition of the passenger cars, whether the proper procedures were followed.

What we do know is that the accident occurred at a place where the track curves. I mean, normally, the train is going about 70 miles an hour. It reaches this place, and it slows down to about 30 miles an hour around the curve. There were people today who said the train seemed to be going too fast.

Here was one of them. His name is Dennis O'Neill. And he spoke on WABC-TV today.

DENNIS O'NEILL: When it went around the curve, I mean, I actually looked up, I knew something was - it was going way too fast. It was flying. I mean, we were going really fast as we hit the curve.

ZARROLI: There have also been some published reports today that the operator of the train who was injured has told emergency workers that the brakes failed. That hasn't been confirmed yet. That is really just preliminary, but there are reports saying that.

RATH: The train, as you mentioned, was operated by the commuter rail line Metro-North. What kind of safety record does Metro-North have?

ZARROLI: Well, not a great one this year anyway. This has been a really rough year. In July, a freight train derailed - actually not a Metro-North, but a CSX train derailed near the same spot where that accident took place. Service had to be suspended a while. Metro-North, the worst incident until today occurred outside Bridgeport, Connecticut, when one train was hit by another. Seventy-three people were injured. It was really just a major disruption because service had to be suspended to the Connecticut suburbs for more than a week. I mean, it basically shut down rail service.

Metro-North's chief engineer told the NTSB this year that the rail line was really far behind in its maintenance schedule, and there hadn't been routine maintenance of that stretch of track since 2005. And the NTSB recommended that it take some urgent protective actions to make the system safer.

RATH: That's NPR's Jim Zarroli in New York. Jim, thank you.

ZARROLI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.
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