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NY train was going 3 times safe speed before wreck

Cranes salvage the last car from from a train derailment in the Bronx section of New York, Monday. Federal authorities began righting the cars Monday morning as they started an exhaustive investigation into what caused a Metro-North commuter train rounding a riverside curve to derail, killing four people and injuring more than 60 others. A second "event recorder" retrieved from the train may provide information on the speed of the train, how the brakes were applied, and the throttle setting, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday. AP photo

Cranes salvage the last car from from a train derailment in the Bronx section of New York, Monday. Federal authorities began righting the cars Monday morning as they started an exhaustive investigation into what caused a Metro-North commuter train rounding a riverside curve to derail, killing four people and injuring more than 60 others. A second "event recorder" retrieved from the train may provide information on the speed of the train, how the brakes were applied, and the throttle setting, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday. AP photo

YONKERS, N.Y. — A commuter train that derailed over the weekend, killing four passengers, was hurtling at 82 mph as it entered a 30 mph curve, a federal investigator said Monday. But whether the wreck was the result of human error or mechanical trouble was unclear, he said.

Rail experts said the tragedy might have been prevented if Metro-North Railroad had installed automated crash-avoidance technology that safety authorities have been urging for decades.

The locomotive’s speed was extracted from the train’s two data recorders after the Sunday morning accident, which happened in the Bronx along a sharp bend.

Asked why the train was going so fast, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said: “That’s the question we need to answer.”

Investigators are also examining the engineer’s cellphone, apparently to determine whether he was distracted. Engineers may not use cellphones while on the train, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs Metro-North. The engineer, William Rockefeller, was injured and “is totally traumatized by everything that has happened,” said Anthony Bottalico, executive director of the rail employees union.

He said Rockefeller, 46, was cooperating fully with investigators.

“He’s a sincere human being with an impeccable record that I know of. He’s diligent and competent,” Bottalico said. Rockefeller has been an engineer for about 11 years and a Metro-North employee for about 20, he said.

Asked whether the tragedy was the result of human error or faulty brakes, Weener said: “The answer is, at this point in time, we can’t tell.”

The wreck came two years before the federal government’s deadline for Metro-North and other railroads to install automatic-slowdown technology designed to prevent catastrophes caused by human error.

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