Investigators Search For A Cause
NTSB investigators arrived on the scene Sunday afternoon, and their probe was expected to take a good long time, said Earl Weener of the NTSB.
“We’ll be on scene a week to 10 days, and then it will a year after that before probable cause and analysis will be completed,” Weener said.
Investigators will be divided into several teams focusing on specific areas, such as the track, signals and human performance.
As WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported, NTSB investigators used the first several hours to document the tracks and the train.
“Our mission is to understand not just what happened, but why it happened, with the intent of preventing it from happening again,” Weener said.
NTSB officials have wasted no time in launching their investigation and assessing damage, 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten reported.
“We’ve had a chance to start looking over the scene and start documenting the condition of the rails and start documenting the condition of the cars,” Weener said.
The NTSB team went right to the locomotive on arrival. It was at the rear of the train pushing the cars toward Grand Central Station, while the motorman was upfront running the mechanism remotely.
Also of concern for investigators was the possibility that some victims may still be stuck inside or underneath the train.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will also be joining in the probe.
“The MTA will be cooperating fully with the NTSB in this investigation,” Cuomo told reporters Sunday afternoon. “The MTA wants to know, as much as anyone, what happened with this accident, if there is a lesson to be learned because safety is job one.”
Cuomo continued: “What’s most important is we lost four New Yorkers this morning. We have 11 who are critically injured, who are still in the hospitals. And I would ask all New Yorkers to remember them in your prayers tonight.”
Witnesses told 1010 WINS the train was moving very fast and took a hard turn before going off the tracks.
MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said the big curve where the derailment occurred is in a slow speed area. The black box should be able to tell how fast the train was traveling, Anders said.
Cuomo said earlier Sunday that preliminary findings suggest speed might have been to blame.
“There was no apparent problem with this track that the people this morning could detect,” the governor told WCBS 880. “Really, we’re waiting for NTSB because it appears like it’s speed related, and that would then take a person to believe it’s either operator error or equipment failure. But again, it’s all speculation until we get the actual data from the NTSB.”
Cuomo said the sharp curve near the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet, can be dangerous.
“That is the question. The curve has been here for many, many years, and trains take the curve everyday of 365 days a year,” he said.
But the governor said accidents such as this one do not occur every day at the site.
“It can’t just be the curve,” he said. “That in it in itself is not the answer.”
The governor said the accident could have been far more tragic if it had happened on a weekday.
“It would have been much, much worse if this had happened during the week,” he told 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon. “There were about 100 to 150 people on this train. There would have been multiples of that during the week. You’ve seen pictures of the train. … It’s even worse when you look inside the train because what happened is as the trains were sliding along the ground, they were picking up rocks and debris, which was then flying through the cars.”
The derailment occurred about a quarter-mile from where a freight train derailed in July. No one was injured in that accident. Weener said investigators will look into whether the two incidents could be related, but as of Sunday, nothing indicated they were.
Deborah Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told CBS 2 “we are very concerned about seeing another” accident on the Metro-North.
Meanwhile, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan told 1010 WINS the NTSB has given the agency all clear to remove the cars. They must then bring in cranes and other equipment to clear the cars, and then some of the tracks must be repaired.