A train hurtled off the tracks in a New York suburb Sunday, killing at least four people, injuring dozens and coming perilously close to plunging into a freezing river.
It was still unclear why the train veered off the rails in the Bronx at around 7:20 am as it headed south to Grand Central Station in Manhattan, sparking a major rescue operation.
The New York Fire Department said four people died, while 11 others were seriously hurt 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, with some being led away with bloodied faces, applying ice packs to try and ease the pain.
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.
“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 a so-called black box or “event recorder” had been recovered and that data had been downloaded from the locomotive but not yet analyzed.
The black box “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.
The train crew and conductor would be interviewed in the coming days, Weener said, adding that he expected investigators to be at the scene for up to 10 days.
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 but said this account had not been confirmed.
At least one passenger said the train was going faster than normal as it moved along a curve on a downward slope leading into Spuyten Duyvil station, just north of Manhattan.
Before reaching the station, the derailed cars flew across a grassy bank separating the rail line from the Hudson and Harlem rivers, which meet at that point.
All seven of the train’s cars came off the tracks. The front came to rest only a few feet from the water, and two cars toppled on their side.
Divers searched the rivers in case passengers were hurled into the frigid water by the force of the derailment. Three of the dead were thrown from the train, police said.
The Hudson Line Metro-North train, which left the town of Poughkeepsie at 6:00 am had about 120 passengers on board when it derailed, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.
It identified the four victims, who ranged in age from 35 to 59, according to media reports.
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 Sunday’s incident but noted it would be part of the probe.
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 had been briefed on the accident. Cuomo told reporters at the scene the deaths had cast a shadow over Thanksgiving.
Train services were suspended because of the derailment, which occurred at the end of America’s travel-heavy Thanksgiving holiday weekend. AFP