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YONKERS NEW YORK – A commuter train that derailed over the weekend, killing four passengers, was hurtling at 132 kph as it entered a 48 kph curve, a federal investigator said Monday.
Safety experts said the tragedy might have been prevented if Metro-North Railroad had installed automated crash-avoidance technology that safety authorities have been urging for decades.
National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener would not disclose what the engineer operating the train told investigators, and he said results of drug and alcohol tests were not yet available. Weener sketched a scenario that suggested that the throttle was let up and the brakes were fully applied way too late to stave off disaster. It takes about a a kilometer and a half for a train going 112 kph to stop, according to Steve Ditmeyer, a former Federal Railroad Administration official who now teaches at Michigan State University. But he said investigators are not aware of any problems with the brakes during the nine stops the train made before the derailment.

The wreck came two years before the federal government’s deadline for Metro-North and other railroads to install automatic-slowdown technology designed to prevent catastrophes caused by human error. Ditmeyer said the technology would have monitored the brakes and would not have allowed the train in Sunday’s tragedy to exceed the speed limit.
Seven victims were still in intensive care at one hospital, and two patients were reported in critical condition at another.
The injured included five police officers who were heading to work, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The derailment came amid a troubled year for Metro-North, and marked the first time in the railroad’s 31-year history that a passenger was killed in an accident. In May, a train derailed in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and was struck by a train coming in the opposite direction, injuring 73 passengers, two engineers and a conductor.

But whether the wreck was the result of human error or mechanical trouble was unclear, he said.
Investigators are also examining the engineer’s cellphone, apparently to determine whether he was distracted.
Weener said that is common, and a train’s brakes work the same way no matter where the locomotive is. Rockefeller has been an engineer for about 11 years and a Metro-North employee for about 20, he said.

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