Metro-North crash: Track repairs done, morning service resumes

A southbound train pulls into the New Rochelle A southbound train pulls into the New Rochelle Metro-North station. (March 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Angela Gaul

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Full service resumed for Wednesday morning rush-hour commuters on Metro-North's New Haven line, five days after 72 people were injured when a northbound train went off the rails and clipped an oncoming train near Bridgeport, Conn.

"We're looking good," said Metro-North spokesman Aaron Donovan. "Service is back to full strength with two tracks."

No delays were reported on Metro-North’s New Haven and Harlem lines Wednesday morning, but the Hudson line was experiencing delays of up to 15 minutes due to slippery rail conditions in the vicinity of Peekskill, Metro-North officials said.

“Slippery rail" occurs when fallen moist leaves cling to the top of rail tracks, reducing necessary friction between wheels and rails.

Speed restrictions, however, are in effect for the section of two repaired tracks where the derailment occurred, with trains limited to 30 mph versus the usual top speed of 70 mph, Donovan said.

FLAWS IN TRACKS

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Speculation on the cause of the derailment centered on possible flaws in the tracks.

Recent track repair in the area may have affected the stability of the rails, said attorney George Cahill, who has been retained by seven Metro-North workers to pursue federal lawsuits to recover damages for injuries suffered in the crash.

In particular, a joint bar -- two steel bars fastened together by bolts -- may have come loose along a section of track where the accident occurred, according to Cahill.

Unlike other areas throughout the Metro-North system that use ribbon rail -- in which quarter-mile sections of the track are welded together to hold the rail line in place -- the corridor where the accident occurred relies on more antiquated infrastructure, union officials and railroad workers said.

Investigators with the NTSB have removed the section of track where the crash occurred and have taken it to Washington for forensic analysis.

It is not clear yet whether the track was damaged before or after the crash.

"We're still in the very early stages," said NTSB spokesman Terry Williams. "We're not ruling anything out."

Cahill already has filed federal notices of claim, often a starting point for lawsuits.

"We have questions," said Cahill, who has offices in Manhattan and New Haven and who has won past multimillion-dollar suits against Metro-North. "We're still investigating what happened."

Cahill said he and his associates have spent the past few days talking to injured workers and others to try to determine what led to the derailment. Their interviews led to a couple of theories on why the accident occurred.

Metro-North declined to comment, citing the ongoing National Transportation Safety Board probe.

METRO-NORTH WORKERS STILL 'SHAKEN'

Engineers and conductors were battered and bleeding after being tossed around the interior of the twisted train cars before aiding with the evacuation of some 500 passengers, a top union official said Tuesday.

"There's a lot of post-traumatic stress," said Tony Bottalico, the general chairman of the Association of Commuter Rail Employees, which represents conductors and engineers. "They're very shaken."

He credited the quick-thinking actions of an engineer in the oncoming train for preventing more injuries and even death.

Bottalico said both trains were going around 70 mph when the engineer in the Manhattan-bound train noticed smoke and dust from the derailment ahead and immediately knocked down his speed.

"If he was going full speed, forget about it," Bottalico said.

Metro-North employees worked around the clock through the weekend to rebuild damaged track and restore electrical service in time for the resumption of regular service between New Haven and Grand Central Terminal Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday afternoon, the first Metro-North train to carry passengers through a section of track between Stamford and Bridgeport that had been shut down for nearly four days glided through the area at a slower-than-usual 30 mph pace. Limited service between Grand Central and New Haven was in place for the evening rush.

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