Commuter Train Wreck Injures Dozens, Curbs Amtrak Service

Two Metro-North Railroad commuter trains collided in Bridgeport, Connecticut, injuring dozens of people and limiting Amtrak service between New York and Boston in one of the worst U.S. passenger rail accidents since 2008.

U.S. transportation safety investigators and regulators are on the scene to probe the causes of yesterday’s crash, which sent about 60 people to local hospitals, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said, according to the Associated Press. He said most of the injuries were minor.

“We’ve got people who are looking at operations, looking at track, looking at maintenance, looking at survival factors,” National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman said today in a telephone interview. “Trying to determine what was the initiating moment is important and then we are able to determine whether it was a human, the equipment, the tracks.”

Hersman said the crash was causing a “bottleneck” along part of the Northeast corridor. It is keeping Amtrak from operating between New York and New Haven, Connecticut, while there is only “limited” service between New Haven and Boston, the passenger rail operator said in a e-mailed statement today.

Malloy will meet with NTSB officials and Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy as they conduct a brief survey of the Metro-North train crash site today, the state said in an e-mailed statement.

‘Most Concerned’

“We’re most concerned about the injured and ultimately reopening the system,” Malloy said at the scene about three hours after the accident, according to the AP.

NTSB investigators should be able to complete their work at the scene today, a first step toward re-opening the tracks, Hersman said.

“We know this is a very important track in the Northeast,” she said. “It really is up to the railroad to determine when the track is safe.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the Metro-North service, said a train bound from New York City to New Haven derailed about 6:10 p.m. local time near an I-95 highway overpass in Bridgeport. A train coming in the opposite direction on an adjacent track then struck the derailed train, the MTA said last night in an e-mailed statement.

About 700

About 700 people were aboard the two trains when they collided, the MTA said. The accident prompted an indefinite suspension of Metro-North service in Connecticut between the South Norwalk and Bridgeport stations.

The NTSB, based in Washington, investigates all major transportation accidents in the U.S. and determines their causes. Investigations usually take at least several months.

The MTA said that of four tracks in the area, two were already out of service for long-term repairs. The remaining two tracks that were affected by the accident received extensive infrastructure damage because of the collision, the MTA said.

“Normal service through this area is not expected to resume until a full investigation is complete, the infrastructure is fully assessed, and repairs are made,” the MTA said in its statement.

Cranes will be needed to remove the damaged rail cars, which can’t be moved, the MTA said, until investigators have completed their on-scene work.

Along with the NTSB, the MTA police, local authorities, the Connecticut Office of Emergency Management and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are participating in the inquiry. The Federal Railroad Administration, which regulates Metro-North, also is involved in the probe.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has spoken with Malloy to discuss their two states’ efforts in coordinating a response to the wreck, the MTA said.

Amtrak Halted

The MTA is the busiest transit administration in the U.S., according to the American Public Transportation Association. Metro-North provides commuter-rail service between New York City and surrounding suburbs in New York and Connecticut.

MTA’s website says “Metro-North Railroad is the second largest commuter railroad in the nation,” with a 2012 ridership of almost 83 million and 281,331 average weekday passengers.

Amtrak’s Acela Express and Northeast Regional trains between New York Penn Station and Boston were suspended indefinitely because of the accident, the railroad said in a statement yesterday.

“Information about the restoration of service will be made when available,” Amtrak said.

The crash may be the worst heavy-rail accident involving a passenger train in the U.S. since a 2008 head-on crash between a Union Pacific Corp. freight train and a Los Angeles Metrolink commuter train that killed 25 people. A collision between two subway trains in Washington, D.C., in 2009 killed nine people and injured dozens.

Railroads have sought an extension to a 2015 deadline for installing accident-avoidance technology on passenger lines and tracks where hazardous materials are moved.

Congress imposed the adoption of so-called positive train control, which can automatically stop a train before it hits another, after the Los Angeles crash in which the operator of the commuter train was texting.

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