No faults in NYC train brake system

2013-12-04 07:53
Investigators at the scene of a commuter train wreck in the Bronx borough of New York. (Timothy Clary, AFP)

Investigators at the scene of a commuter train wreck in the Bronx borough of New York. (Timothy Clary, AFP)

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New York - Investigators looking into a deadly New York City train derailment say no anomalies have been found with the train's brake system.

The metro-north Railroad commuter train was travelling on Sunday at 130km/h as it approached a 48km/h zone and jumped the tracks along a sharp curve. Four passengers died.

The national transportation safety board says investigators haven't found any evidence of brake trouble during the train's nine previous stops and no problems with track signals. NTSB member Earl Weener said on Tuesday there were "no anomalies".

The rail employees union says veteran engineer William Rockefeller was injured in the wreck and has co-operated with investigators. It says the NTSB investigation will show "there was no criminal intent with the operation of his train".

'Unjustifiable' speed

But Governor Andrew Cuomo has said Rockefeller should be disciplined for "unjustifiable" speed.

"There's such a gross deviation from the norm," Cuomo said. "That amount of speed is certainly unjustifiable".

Union leader Anthony Bottalico said he was confident the investigation would reveal there was no criminal intent.

Investigators began talking to the train's engineer, William Rockefeller, on Monday but postponed completing the interview, likely until Wednesday, national transportation safety board spokesperson Keith Holloway said on Tuesday. Holloway wouldn't say why; Bottalico said it was because Rockefeller hadn't slept in almost 24 hours and was "very distraught".

Bottalico said the engineer planned to have a lawyer accompany him to the interview. The attorney didn't immediately return a call on Tuesday.

Weener sketched a scenario suggesting that the throttle was let up and the brakes were fully applied way too late to stave off the crash. 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.

Investigators are not aware of any problems with the brakes during the nine stops the train made before the derailment, Weener said.

PTC system

Weener would not disclose what investigators know about the engineer's version of events, and he said the results of drug and alcohol tests were not yet available. Investigators are also examining Rockefeller's cellphone; engineers are allowed to carry cellphones but prohibited from using them during a train's run.

Positive train control, or PTC, is designed to forestall the human errors that cause about 40% of train accidents. In 2008, Congress ordered rail lines to adopt the technology by December 2015.

The metropolitan transportation authority, which runs metro-north, began planning for a PTC system as soon as the law was put into effect, spokesperson Marjorie Anders said.

But the MTA has advocated for an extension to 2018, saying it's difficult to install such a system across more than 1 000 rail cars and 1 931km of track.

Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, which also is served by metro-north, said Sunday's derailment underscored the need for the technology.

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