Metro-North crash: Normal service by Wednesday morning; tracks inspected 2 days before derailment

Emergency workers arrive at the scene of a Emergency workers arrive at the scene of a Metro-North train crash in Fairfield, Conn. (May 17, 2013) Photo Credit: AP / The Connecticut Post, Christian Abraham

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Metro-North will resume regular service on its New Haven Line in time for Wednesday morning's rush as the commuter rail hustles to repair the damage wrought by a Friday evening derailment in Connecticut that injured dozens.

Metro-North President Howard Permut said some 100 employees will continue working around the clock to rebuild 2,000 feet of damaged track and restore electrical service knocked out when a New Haven-bound train derailed after 6 p.m. Friday in Bridgeport, striking an oncoming train and hurtling cars from the tracks.

"We are confident that the reconstruction work, inspection and testing will be completed in time for a normal rush hour on Wednesday," Permut said. "We are grateful for the tireless work of all departments and employees engaged in this huge task."

Some 70 people were injured as a result of the collision, including an engineer who broke his wrist and a conductor who was hospitalized after she was thrown through the car. Five remained hospitalized on Monday, with one in critical condition.

As the repairs are being made, commuters in Connecticut have been forced to rely on shuttle buses to get to their destinations.

TRACK INSPECTED TWO DAYS BEFORE CRASH

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Newsday has learned that two days before the derailment, Metro-North workers inspected the section of the track that's become the focus of a federal probe into the accident's cause and concluded it met safety standards.

Two track inspectors told investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board over the weekend that on Wednesday they checked the rail line and didn't notice anything to suggest what was to come, according to Chris Silvera, the secretary-treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 808.

"As far as they know, everything was good. Everything met specifications," said Silvera, whose union represents Metro-North track workers.

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Silvera said NTSB investigators removed a broken section of track where the eastbound train derailed and have taken it to Washington, D.C. for further analysis.

It doesn't appear that foul play was involved, according to Silvera.

"I don't think there's any evidence of anyone tampering with anything," he said.

It's not clear if the accident caused the section of rail to fracture or if it was damaged before the crash, an NTSB spokesman said over the weekend.

The NTSB probe is expected to take six months and will cast a wide net as investigators examine everything from train engineers' cellphone records at the time of the crash to the age and condition of the track in the area.

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Both trains were traveling the standard 70 mph before impact, according to the NTSB.

"We're looking at all aspects," said Nicholas Worrell, an NTSB spokesman.

In the meantime, commuters traveling between Bridgeport and Stamford are directed to shuttle buses to take them to and from the Metro-North stations that are without rail service.

Separately, a train shuttle that leaves every 20 minutes is running between Bridgeport east to New Haven.

Service on the Danbury and Waterbury branches remains on a normal schedule.

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Overall, the morning ridership was down 20 percent on the New Haven Line, Metro-North's busiest, which railroad officials attributed to commuters driving to stations that remained on a regular schedule.

The Harlem Line saw a six percent jump in ridership Monday morning, officials said.

NEW TRAIN CARS MAY HAVE PREVENTED DEATHS

Seven cars damaged in the crash have been towed to the Bridgeport yard for repair and another nine were derailed, according to the railroad.

They are part of a fleet of 200 Japanese-manufactured cars known as M-8's that Metro-North has put into service in recent years as the nation's busiest commuter rail tries to capture a surging market of off-peak and weekend travelers. Another 405 M-8's are on order and expected to be put into service in the coming months, replacing the existing stock of rail cars, according to Metro-North officials.

Several Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. engineers have been summoned from Japan to aid the NTSB investigation into how the cars fared in preventing the loss of life and further injury, said Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders.

An NTSB spokesman said this is the first time that the M-8's have been involved in an accident of this magnitude.

"It's amazing that no one was killed," said Anthony Bottalico, the general chairman of the Association of Commuter Rail Employees, which represents conductors and engineers.

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