Metro-North Crash Tangles Commute as U.S. Probes Crash

Connecticut and federal authorities told commuters to make alternate plans while asking for patience as investigators examine the site of a Metro-North rush-hour train derailment that left three people critically injured.

“The damage is absolutely staggering,” U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said after touring the area yesterday. “The sides of cars are torn away like ribbons of cloth. Tons of metal tossed around like toy things. The insides of the cars are shattered.”

Dozens of people were treated for injuries, and three of them are in critical condition, officials said. No deaths were reported in the accident, which involved about 700 riders and is one of the worst U.S. passenger train wrecks since 2008.

“When will service be restored to this area?” Governor Dan Malloy said at a news conference. “Right now, we really cannot give you good information on that.”

Those who depend on the train for their daily commutes need to “start making alternative plans” for Monday, he said.

Amtrak reported no service between New York and New Haven, Connecticut, and limited service between New Haven and Boston yesterday. Metro-North said trains between South Norwalk and New Haven were suspended indefinitely.

Metro-North Railroad is the second-largest commuter railroad in the U.S., taking passengers from Grand Central Station to Connecticut and the northern suburbs of New York City. The rail line carries about 282,000 passengers on weekdays, according to its website.

10 Days

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the Metro-North service, said the accident occurred when an eastbound New York City-to-New Haven train derailed about 6:10 p.m. local time on May 17 near an I-95 highway overpass in Bridgeport. A train traveling in the opposite direction on an adjacent track then struck the derailed train.

Blumenthal and others credited newly purchased rail cars with preventing more injuries and deaths. The cars were made by Kawasaki Rail Car Inc., the MTA said.

The investigation may take seven to 10 days, Earl Weener, a National Transportation Safety Board member, said in a televised briefing yesterday. Investigators can finish their examination of the tracks in less than two days, he said. Once that’s done, additional time will be needed for track repairs, he said.

Weener declined to talk about potential causes of the accident, but in a subsequent briefing said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had decided there was no foul play involved and removed itself from the probe.

Damaged Cars

Late yesterday afternoon, the NTSB said in postings on Twitter that it started an inspection of the cars involved in the derailment and requested maintenance records from Metro-North. It also said it found a section of eastbound track that was fractured at a rail joint, which is of interest to the agency because of the marks on it.

Based in Washington, the NTSB 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 near the accident, two were already out of service for long-term, overhead repairs. The remaining two tracks that were affected by the accident received extensive infrastructure damage because of the collision.

2015 Deadline

The MTA removed 13 of the damaged train cars by 8 a.m. today, after the NTSB approved the cleanup, and said the remaining three would be cleared from the site this afternoon. Metro-North will then have to rebuild 2,000 feet (609 meters) of track, overhead wires and signal systems, President Howard Permut said in a statement.

Governor Malloy said that the state will provide transportation from Bridgeport to South Norwalk for commuters while the track is being investigated and repaired.

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

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.