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'Unusual condition' on track before New York-area train crash

May 24, 2013|By Tina Susman

NEW YORK — The conductor of a train involved in a derailment and crash outside New York City last week noticed an "unusual condition" on the track before the cars went off the rails, and the area where the wreck occurred had recently undergone repairs, investigators said Friday.

The May 17 crash involving two Metro-North Railroad trains outside the Fairfield, Conn., station injured scores of passengers, several of them critically, and disrupted rail traffic along the northeast corridor for several days. Three people remain hospitalized.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is looking for the cause of the crash, said in a statement that it had completed its initial on-scene investigation, which involved collecting photographs, video, reports, records and other data as well as interviewing witnesses and Metro-North employees.

Maintenance reports show that the area where the initial derailment occurred had undergone repairs in April. At that time, a "joint bar," which is used to join rail sections together, was cracked, and Metro-North personnel repaired it, the NTSB said.

The conductor of a train that had left Grand Central Terminal the evening of the wreck told investigators "he saw what he described as an unusual condition on the track" as he approached the area, the NTSB said. His train derailed and ground to a halt, with some of its cars protruding onto a parallel track.

About 20 seconds later, the conductor of a train traveling in the opposite direction on the parallel track applied the emergency brakes but could not stop in time. The second train hit the first one, and some of its cars also derailed.

NTSB officials have removed sections of the damaged rail and sent them to Washington for further examination.

The crash occurred during the evening rush hour and for several days disrupted service on Metro-North, the country's second-largest commuter railroad. Full service resumed Wednesday. The wreck also affected some routes on Amtrak, which uses the same rails. Investigators say the trains were traveling at about 70 miles per hour and carrying a total of several hundred people when the crash occurred.

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tina.susman@latimes.com

Twitter: @tinasusman


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