Metro-North train crash: 'Carmageddon' fails to materialize as traffic flows

Gov. Dannel Malloy, Connecticut's senators, NTSB investigators and other officials discuss the Metro-North derailment and collision.

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Despite a tractor trailer accident blocking an exit ramp on I-287 at Exit 5 eastbound, traffic was moving freely in Westchester Monday morning after some government officials warned of "carmageddon" and "controlled chaos" as thousands of rail commuters made alternative plans to get to work after a Metro-North rail collision in Bridgeport, Conn. Friday that continues to disrupt service.

Jim Cameron, chairman of a straphanger group, the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said that Friday's train crash would leave about 20,000 of the 30,000 commuters who use the affected stations groping for alternative transportation, and he forecast that many would drive on I-95, a road with bumper-to-bumper congestion on an average day.

"I'm predicting what I call 'carmageddon,'" he said. "It's just going to be crazy. If half of those 20,000 people get in their car, it's going to be complete gridlock."

Traffic along I-95 in Westchester was without incident and, except for a minor accident on I-87 southbound near Tarrytown toll plaza, vehicles were moving normally across the Tappan Zee Bridge. The Thruway crash, which was reported around 7 a.m. had been cleared as of 7:45 a.m.

The tractor-trailer crash blocking the exit ramp for route 119 on I-287 in Greenburgh was causing an eastbound backup to about Exit 4 at 7:35 a.m., News12 reported.

With the exception of the New Haven line in Connecticut, trains and buses in New York were running on time with no reported service disruptions.

"I think it's delayed the trains by about 10 to 15 minutes," said Bruce Clark, 67, of New Rochelle, on his way to work in Manhattan from New Rochelle Monday morning. "Other than that, I haven't seen a major change. I feel for the people from Connecticut because I know some people from work who commute from up north.

"I feel completely safe; the MTA has a very good record. That derailment will not affect me."

In a Sunday night news conference, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy warned that if all commuters shift to the highway en masse, "we will literally have a parking lot."

The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency investigating the train derailment, said in a Twitter post that both trains were traveling about 70 mph before the collision, according to "preliminary review."

Thirteen of the 16 damaged train cars were removed from the accident scene by Sunday evening and the remaining three most heavily damaged cars would be cleared within 24 hours, Howard Permut, Metro-North president, said at the Hartford news conference. Metro-North is predicting that service disruptions will continue "well into the coming week."

The service suspension between South Norwalk and New Haven includes stops at 12 stations.

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal predicted the higher traffic loads would cause "a lot of controlled chaos" that would ripple south of the Connecticut border to Westchester County on I-95 and the Hutchinson River Parkway.

Cameron advised commuters to allow "at least" an extra hour for their travel.

Among his suggested strategies: carpooling; working from home; leaving early to avoid the peak of the rush hour, and driving west to the Harlem Line, which runs down the center of Westchester.

Malloy also raised another option for commuters: remaining in New York City for the duration.

The accident halted service on the New Haven Line between South Norwalk and New Haven and forced a reduced hourly service between the South Norwalk station and Grand Central Terminal. Metro-North said regular service will operate between Stamford and Grand Central and on the New Canaan and Danbury branch lines.

Beginning Monday morning, a shuttle is operate between New Haven and Bridgeport with an express bus to Stamford, where riders could board New York City-bound trains, according to Metro-North.
Local bus service also will be available between Bridgeport, Fairfield Metro, Fairfield and Westport.

FEDS INVESTIGATING

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National Transportation Safety Board investigators are looking at a broken section of rail to see if it is connected to the Friday derailment and collision. Nine people remained hospitalized Sunday after an eastbound train from New York City derailed and was hit by a westbound train.

The accident occurred at about 6 p.m. Passengers described a chaotic, terrifying moment of crunching metal and flying bodies. The two trains were carrying a total of about 700 people.

A member of the NTSB said Saturday that a fractured section of rail will be sent to a lab for analysis. Officials also said that the incident was not the result of foul play.

It's not clear if the accident caused the fracture or if the rail was broken before the crash, said Earl Weener, a spokesman for the NTSB. He emphasized Saturday that the investigation is in its early stages and said he won't speculate on the cause of the derailment. Data recorders on board are expected to provide the speed of the Metro-North trains at the time of the crash and other information, he said.

Blumenthal spoke of "tons of metal tossed around like toy things" and called the damage "absolutely staggering."

CRASHED CARS STATE OF THE ART

Blumenthal credited the investment in infrastructure and newly constructed cars for saving lives and preventing more injuries.

The cars involved in the crash are state-of-the-art, Weener said.

"This is the first time a car like this has been involved in this kind of accident," Weener said. "By all appearances, they responded well."

While the cars are the new M8 models, introduced in 2011, the tracks on sections of the New Haven Line are old-fashioned jointed rails, said Anthony Bottalico, general chairman of the Association of Commuter Rail Employees.
The older jointed rails are bolted together and prone to cracking, he said.

Jointed rails are generally used on lower-speed lines and are responsible for a rhythmic clicking sound associated with older trains. The rest of the Metro-North system -- and most modern railroads -- use ribbon rail, also known as continuously welded rail, Bottalico said.

"In my opinion, it's definitely track-related," Bottalico said of the derailment, calling the jointed tracks "a more antiquated rail system."

The last significant train collision involving Metro-North occurred in 1988 when a train engineer was killed in Mount Vernon when one train empty of passengers rear-ended another, railroad officials said.

Further information is available on the MTA website: http://new.mta.info/mnr.
With Thomas Zambito and The Associated Press
 

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