Authorities investigating the deadly crash of a Metro-North commuter train in the Bronx, N.Y., Sunday morning believe the engineer driving the train may have fallen asleep, allowing it to accelerate 52 mph over the speed limit ahead of a sharp curve. The derailment killed four passengers and injured about 75 others, including the engineer.
William Rockefeller, 45, told supervisors that he hit the brakes as the train approached the curve, but it would not stop. Mr. Rockefeller has been employed by Metro-North for two decades and has been a company engineer for the last 11 years. He had an unblemished record, and is highly regarded among his coworkers and supervisors.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials said that the train had no braking problems at the nine earlier stops between its origin in Poughkeepsie and the crash site about 100 yards north of the Bronx’s Spuyten Duyvil station. The train left Poughkeepsie at 5:54 a.m. and was bound for Grand Central Station.
Further analyses indicated the brakes were never fully engaged when the train derailed – a sign that Mr. Rockefeller did not apply the brakes in time. The brakes became fully locked five seconds after the crash occurred, investigators determined.
Authorities probing the crash found the train was traveling at an excessive speed when it careened off the track and tumbled onto its side along the Hudson River. According to crash data, the train was speeding at 82 mph on the 30-mph curve.
“This was a tricky turn on the system, but it’s a turn that’s been here for decades and trains negotiate all day long,” N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
Investigators said that Mr. Rockefeller’s cell phone records showed that distraction probably wasn’t a factor in the crash, and drug and alcohol tests were clean.
Mr. Rockefeller then virtually admitted he had fallen asleep and was jolted awake as the train ground against the rails on the curve, too late to stop. Records indicated that Mr. Rockefeller hadn’t been overworked in the hours leading to the crash.
According to the DNAinfo New York, “the NTSB has been urging railroads for decades to install technology that can stop wrecks caused by excessive speed or other problems, including those that can automatically slow trains through curves.”
Metro-North plans to buy and install the recommended equipment, but the improvements are costly, DNAinfo New York said.
Fatigue continues to play a major role in crashes involving commercial trucks, buses, passenger vehicles and other modes of transportation. Investigators have found fatigue also contributed to the Exxon Valdez oil disaster, the space shuttle Challenger explosion, and the meltdown at Three Mile Island, to name a few.