Preliminary answers emerge in NTSB Metro-North derailment investigation

train derailment
The NTSB’s preliminary investigation has revealed that the train was going 82 miles-per-hour in a 70 mile-per-hour zone and approaching a 30 mile-per-hour zone.
Credit: Getty Images

National Transportation Security Board member Earl Weener briefed the press once again on Monday afternoon following the tragic and fatal derailment of a Metro-North train early Sunday morning.

According to Weener, the black box recorders recovered from the trains showed that the train was going 82 miles-per-hour approaching a 30 mile-per-hour zone. The stretch of tracks preceding the 30 mile-per-hour zone has a maximum speed of 70 miles-per-hour.

The preliminary data gathered showed that six seconds before the locomotive engine stopped, the throttle was reduced. Approximately five seconds before the locomotive stopped, the brakes air pressure plummeted suddenly from 120 psi to zero, which would have resulted in the train braking at the maximum strength possible.

But Weener, as well as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), said it’s still too early to tell if the speed and the abnormal braking were due to human error or mechanical failure.

But, Weener and the senators noted, the train stopped at nine stations prior to the derailment, and so far the NTSB investigation has turned up no indication of any issues with the brakes at any of those stops.

Schumer said investigators told them “it looks pretty certain that the tracks are OK.” Weener confirmed NTSB had returned the tracks to the authority of Metro-North.

“There are two choices,” Schumer said. “One would be human error on behalf of the engineer, the other will be mechanical error on behalf of the locomotive.”

Weener said the engineer underwent drug and alcohol testing but the results had not been made available to NTSB as of Monday evening. NTSB had started interviewing the engineer on Monday and intends to interview the other three crew members in the coming days.

The engineer’s cell phone was also taken into custody, apparently a routine part of any NTSB investigation.

The locomotive and five of the seven train cars had been inspected as of Monday, and low-quality surveillance video was sent to a Washington, D.C. facility for possible enhancement, Weener said.

A troubled year

Metro-North has seen three other major incidents this year.

On May 17, a derailed New Haven Line train caused a collision of two trains near Bridgeport, Conn.

On May 28, a track foreman was killed when a train was unintentionally routed onto a track under repair.

On July 18, a CSX freight train derailed near the same place where Sunday’s derailment occurred.

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


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