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The Metro-North Train Derailment in Bronx Should Not Have Happened – What Can Be Done to Prevent Future Harm?

On the morning of Sunday, December 1, 2013, a Metro North train derailed while it was traversing a severely curved portion of the track in the Bronx near the Spuyten Duyvil station. All of the train cars veered off of the track. The locomotive and cars in the front deviated the most, nearly toppling into the water and ending up close to the edge of the shore. There were approximately one hundred to one hundred and fifty passengers on the train at the time. There were four fatalities and sixty-three injuries. Three of the four people who passed away were thrown thrown from the train after the windows blew out.

The cause of the derailment is under an ongoing investigation. The scene of the accident was promptly reviewed and secured by authorities who braced the cars which came to rest at an angle. Busted out windows laid on the ground nearby. The interior of the cars were ripped apart and passengers’ belongings were strewn about.

Engineer William Rockefeller has over a decade of experience with the Metro-North and survived with minor injuries. When he gave preliminary statements, he told first responders that he hit the brakes. There were three conductors on the train. Another official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, claims a last resort emergency brake technique was used.

This severe curve of track has existed for a long time and is traveled frequently. The speed limit in the area where the incident occurred is drastically lower than that of straighter areas of nearby rail. Though the speed limit is seventy miles per hour in the area just before the curve, it is thirty miles per hour in the area where the train derailed. The train’s black box data was recovered and is expected to reveal the speed of the train and whether the brakes were depressed but failed before the train went awry. The initial investigation is expected to take approximately ten days, though the final results may not be complete for a year.

This is not the first major problem Metro-North has had as of late. The Metro-North had other issues in May when two commuter trains smashed into each other during the evening rush hour in Connecticut. Also in May, a Metro-North foreman was hit by a train and killed when a track was inadvertently opened. In July, a freight train carrying trash derailed about a couple of hundred feet from where Sunday’s incident occurred. Ten of the twenty-four cars went off the track. After that derailment, Metro-North’s chief engineer reported that the railroad is behind in maintenance in several areas. In September, power was lost on the New Haven line for about twelve days after a feeder cable failed in Mount Vernon.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended railroads install technology that can stop derailing for reasons like excessive speed. This technology is geared towards preventing human error, which is responsible for approximately forty percent of adverse train incidents. Railroad companies are attempting to push back the deadline set for implementation, which is currently the end of 2015. Metro-North is in the process of installation, though it already has a system which will automatically apply the brakes if an engineer fails to respond to an alert indicating that speed is excessive. The system would hinder train speed but would not bring it to a complete stop.

It is not clear how long service will be disrupted, but Governor Andrew Cuomo says he expects service to be functioning towards the end of the week. The locomotive was re-rerailed this morning and two cranes have been readied to lift the remaining cars in place. Shuttle buses are being provided by the MTA from the stops to the Harlem line.

We wrote in May about the Connecticut train crash and wrote generally about what to do if you are involved in an accident. Cases involving a municipality like Metro-North have special deadlines and prerequisites, some of which are so strict and inflexible that if they are not met, a claim may be forfeited forever. It is critical to seek legal counsel early on to protect a potential claim.

The New York Times, Focus Turns to Investigation in Fatal Bronx Train Crash, James Barron and J. David Goodman, 12.01.2013

NBC News, Black box data recovered, eyed after deadly Metro-North derailment in New York, Tom Costello, 12.01.2013

CBS New York, Feds Seek Cause of Deadly Metro-North Crash, NTSB: 2nd Data Recorder Found At Derailment Site, 12.02.2013

Daily News, Metro-North crash latest in a spate of accidents involving the railroad, Pete Donohue and Erin Durkin, 12.01.2013

The Weather Channel, Metro-North Train Crash: MTA identifies 4 People Killed, 12.01.2013