By Verena Dobnik and Deepti Hajela
NEW YORK: A New York City commuter train rounding a riverside curve derailed Sunday, killing four people and injuring more than 60 in a crash that threw passengers from the toppling cars and left a snaking chain of twisted wreckage just inches from the water.
Some of the roughly 150 passengers on the early morning Metro-North train from Poughkeepsie to Manhattan were jolted from sleep around 7:20 a.m. to screams and the frightening sensation of their compartment rolling over on a bend in the Bronx where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet. When the motion stopped, all seven cars and the locomotive had lurched off the rails, and the lead car was only inches from the water. It was the latest accident in a troubled year for the nation’s second-biggest commuter railroad, which had never experienced a passenger death in an accident in its 31-year-history.
“Four people lost their lives today in the holiday season, right after Thanksgiving,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference. Among the worst injuries, 11 people were believed to be in critical condition and another six were seriously hurt, a fire official said.
The train operator was among the injured, Cuomo said.
The governor said the track did not appear to be faulty, leaving speed as a possible culprit for the crash. But he noted that the National Transportation Safety Board would determine what happened. The Federal Railroad Administration was also sending investigators.
The speed limit on the curve is 30 mph, compared with 70 mph in the area approaching it, MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said. The train’s data recorders should be able to tell how fast it was traveling, she said.
One passenger, Frank Tatulli, told WABC-TV that the train appeared to be going “a lot faster” than usual as it approached the sharp curve near the Spuyten Duyvil station, which takes its name from a Dutch word for a local waterway, sometimes translated as “Devil’s whirlpool.”
The train was about half full at the time of the crash, rail officials said, with some passengers likely heading to the city for holiday shopping.
Joel Zaritsky was dozing as he traveled to a dental convention.
“I woke up when the car started rolling several times. Then I saw the gravel coming at me, and I heard people screaming,” he said, holding his bloody right hand. “There was smoke everywhere and debris. People were thrown to the other side of the train.”
Within minutes, dozens of emergency crews arrived and carried passengers away on stretchers, some wearing neck braces. Others, bloodied and scratched, held ice packs to their heads.
Firefighters shattered windows of the toppled train cars to reach passengers, and they used pneumatic jacks and air bags to make sure they uncovered any victims who might have been pinned by train seats or other objects.
Police divers searched the waters to make sure no one had been thrown in. Other emergency crews scoured the surrounding woods.
Federal investigators planned to turn the cars upright to be certain no one was trapped beneath.
Three men and one woman were killed, the MTA said. Three of the dead were found outside the train, and one was found inside, authorities said. The victims’ names had not yet been released.
For decades, the National Transportation Safety Board has been urging railroads to install technology that can stop derailing caused by excessive speed.
A rail-safety law passed by Congress in 2008 gave commuter and freight railroads until the end of 2015 to install the systems, known as positive train control. They use GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains.
Aimed at preventing human error — the cause of about 40 percent of train accidents — they can also prevent trains from colliding, entering tracks undergoing maintenance or going the wrong way because of a switching mistake. Metro-North is in the process of installing the technology.