FAIRFIELD, Conn. (CBSNewYork) — Investigators have begun their probe — and have not ruled out foul play — following the derailment and collision of two crowded Metro-North trains in Connecticut.
As CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell reported, the derailment was followed by a violent crash that crushed train cars and twisted tracks like spaghetti.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the crash was just beginning Saturday. The agency will be looking at the condition of the brakes, the wheels, the track and if the signals were working properly.
“In terms of the train operation, we’ll looking at how the crew behaved and how the crew operated the train,” said NTSB member Earl Weener. “Our survival factors focus will looks at injuries from this accident, determine how they happened.”
Weener said the initial information from the black boxes in the trains has been downloaded, and foul play has not been ruled out. The on-scene investigation will take about seven to 10 days, but it could be some time before the agency determines exactly what caused the derailment and collision.
Service between South Norwalk and New Haven, Conn., likely will take until after Monday to resume, as the investigation will take seven to 10 days, authorities said.
A crane will be required to remove the train cars.
“I don’t have an estimate for when train service will be resolved,” Metro-North spokesman Aaron Donovan said.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said alternative transportation will be put into place.
“When will service be restored through this area? Right now, we really cannot give you good information on that,” Malloy said. “Suffice it to say that we will set up a system to move people from Bridgeport to the next closest station that can handle that kind of traffic.”
As WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported, commuters were advised to make alternate plans.
“If it becomes possible to electrify farther up the system and put more of the stations that are currently out of order back in order, we will do that,” Malloy said.
But regular service continues between Stamford and Grand Central Terminal, as well as the New Canaan and Danbury branches. Bus service is in effect between Waterbury and Bridgeport with no train connections, and Yankees game day service will be in effect between Stamford and the Yankees-East 153rd Street station in the Bronx.
But Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council, said the situation will not be pretty, WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported.
“Monday is probably going to be what I’m calling carmaggedon,” he said.
The reason is that commuters will be scrambling for alternates.
“They’re going to have to probably get in their car and drive down I-95 to try to catch the train at stations west of Norwalk where the trains are still running,” Cameron said.
He said the Harlem line in Westchester County might be an option, but once you get to any station, you will still have to fight for parking. Cameron’s advice is to have a game plan.
“Start planning ahead,” he said. “Do not expect train service as usual come Monday.”
He said you might even want to think about just staying home.
Chaos Followed Accident Friday
About 700 people were on board the trains when one heading east from New York City’s Grand Central Station to New Haven derailed about 6:10 p.m. just outside Bridgeport, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said.
The train was hit by a train heading west from New Haven to Grand Central on an adjacent track, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said. Some cars on the second train also derailed as a result of the collision.
“It’s clear that these cars came into contact, ripped off at least a portion of siding of one of the cars, extensive damage in the front,” Malloy said.
Shattered glass, and the metal roof of the train left mangled, sheared and bent right onto passengers’ seats, was evidence of just how violent the force of the impact was.
“Everything just came to a stop. We went flying,” said passenger Brian McGinn. “I thought, ‘This is the end. Brace yourself.’”
Another passenger described the chaotic scene moments after impact.
“I saw that one entire compartment was completely ripped open,” the passenger said. “The whole side was gone, and people there lying in between trains.”
Adam Weppler of Brooklyn said he was aboard the train bound for Grand Central Terminal when he felt the impact and his car filled with smoke and dust.
“We saw that about 10 feet in front of us, one of the windows had been knocked in. We could see through the windows, our trains were pressed up against each other,” Weppler told WCBS 880’s Murnane.
Sixty people were rushed to nearby hospitals, with five people listed in critical condition.
By Saturday morning, eight people remained hospitalized with three in critical condition, Malloy said.
“The vast majority of the injuries were treated at the hospital emergency rooms last night, leading to quick releases after tests and that sort of thing was done,” Malloy said Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, police officers’ cell phone pictures showed the now-damaged tracks – now bent, warped and distorted. Authorities said it will take some time to get the aging tracks back online.
“Obviously, we don’t have alternative tracks to go to, because of the state of the repairs of the catenary replacement; the catenary system,” Malloy said. “Normally, we would have four tracks in this area. We could switch traffic to at least one of those under normal conditions. We’re not able to do that.”
Before the subsequent NTSB comments, Malloy said it appears the derailment was an accident, and sabotage was not involved.
On Saturday the MTA’s Chaplain visited several of the injured in the hospital, CBS 2’s DOn Champion reported, and the organization offered it’s thoughts to the families of those injured in the accident and their loved ones. The MTA also released a statement addressing service on the line as the clean up continues.
“When the NTSB has concluded the on-site phase of its investigation, Metro-North will begin to remove the damaged rail cars and remaining debris. This process requires specialized, heavy equipment that will be in place by tomorrow. Only after the damaged train cars have been removed can Metro-North begin the work of rebuilding the damaged tracks and overhead wires. It is a significant undertaking that could take days to complete.”
The derailment has also caused service suspensions on Amtrak.
As of Saturday night, Amtrak service was suspended indefinitely between New York and New Haven, Conn., while limited Northeast Regional service was available between Boston and New Haven, Conn.
Service is operating as scheduled between New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and Springfield Shuttle service between New Haven, Conn., and Springfield, Mass., is also operating as scheduled, Amtrak said.
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