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Deadly Derailment Is Latest Accident For Commuter Train Line

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Aired 12/2/13

At least four people are dead, and more than 60 injured after a commuter train derailed in the Bronx borough of New York City Sunday morning. Fourteen of the injuries are critical.

Thousands of New Yorkers will have to find alternate ways into the city. This is the most serious incident for Metro-North Railroad that has had a number of incidents this year.

The commuter train was making the roughly 80 mile journey from Poughkeepsie south to Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Much of the route hugs the Hudson River, and when trains reach the Bronx, they take a sharp turn right at the spot where the Harlem and Hudson Rivers meet.

It was there, just outside the Spuyten Duyvil station, at roughly 7:20 Sunday morning, that the seven-car train hit the curve and went off the rails.

"By the time I looked up it was completely going off its track and there was just like the rubble from under the tracks flying at my face," said an unidentified female passenger, who told WABC-TV that she was lucky to be in a car where no one was hurt.

At the crash site, the severity of the derailment was clear, and neighbors and onlookers gathered at an overlook near the crash.

Geraldine Hayes, who lives nearby, said Sunday's disaster reminds her of another incident this year.

"It's really sad, and we had a derailment on the other side of the curve about three months ago with the garbage. So, I think it's important to find out what happened," she says.

This past summer, a freight train carrying trash derailed, causing significant damage to the track. At a Sunday news conference, Earl Weener of the National Transportation Safety Board was asked whether the freight derailment contributed to the latest accident.

"The answer is, we'll be looking at that, but at this point in time we have no indication that it's a factor," he said.

Weener said a crane will soon lift the train cars to stop a fuel spill and to make sure there aren't more bodies beneath the wreckage.

There were also questions about that sharp curve. Could that have played a role? At the scene, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tried to quell that speculation.

"The curve has been here for many, many years, right, and trains take the curve 365 days a year. So, it's not the fact that there's a curve here," he said.

This is the first time passengers have died in an accident in Metro-North's more than 30 year history. But Sunday's derailment adds to one of the train line's worst years for safety. In May, two Metro-North trains collided in Connecticut, injuring more than 70 people.

NTSB chair Deborah Hersman told CNN the agency is looking into Metro-North's record.

"We are investigating several accidents that have occurred on Metro-North's property over the last eight months. So we will be looking at precursor events things that maybe close calls prior to this that could have given Metro-North some indication that this was an area they needed to pay attention to," she said.

The NTSB says it plans to remain on the site for the next seven to 10 days, and investigators will spend that time inspecting the train, tracks and maintenance records. The NTSB says it already has data from the train's black boxes.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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