YONKERS, N.Y. — A commuter train that derailed during the weekend, killing four passengers, was hurtling at 82 mph as it entered a 30 mph curve, a federal investigator said Monday. But whether the wreck was the result of human error or brake trouble was unclear, he said.
Asked why the train was going so fast, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said: “That’s the question we need to answer.”
He would not disclose what the engineer operating the train had told investigators. Weener said investigators were examining the engineer’s cellphone — apparently to determine whether he was distracted.
Weener said the information on the locomotive’s speed was preliminary and extracted from the Metro-North train’s two data recorders, taken from the wreckage after the Sunday morning accident in the Bronx.
He said the throttle went to idle six seconds before the derailed train came to a complete stop — “very late in the game” for a train going that fast — and the brakes were fully engaged five seconds before the train stopped.
Weener said investigators are not aware of any problems with the brakes during the nine stops the train made before the derailment.
As investigators mined the data recorders for information, workers righted the fallen cars along the curve, a bend so sharp that the speed limit during the approach drops from 70 mph to 30 mph.
The engineer, William Rockefeller, was injured and “is totally traumatized by everything that has happened,” said Anthony Bottalico, executive director of the rail employees union. He said Rockefeller, 46, was cooperating fully with investigators.
The train’s assistant conductor, Maria Herbert, suffered an eye injury and a broken collarbone, Bottalico said.
The train was about half full Sunday, with about 150 people aboard, when it ran off the rails about 7:20 a.m. while rounding a bend where the Harlem and Hudson rivers meet. The lead car landed inches from the water. In addition to the four people killed, more than 60 were injured.
Many victims had been released from hospitals by Monday afternoon.
Seven were still in an intensive-care unit at St. Barnabas Hospital, some with spinal injuries, emergency department director Dr. David Listman said. Two patients were reported in critical condition at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
The MTA identified the dead as Donna L. Smith, 54, of Newburgh; James G. Lovell, 58, of Cold Spring; James M. Ferrari, 59, of Montrose; and Ahn Kisook, 35, of Queens. Three of the dead were found outside the train.