NEW YORK (CNN) — A commuter train derailed in a curve in the New York borough of the Bronx on Sunday, killing four people and leaving dozens hurt, investigators said.
All seven passenger cars and the locomotive jumped the tracks near the Spuyten Duyvil station, about 10 miles north of Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal, the National Transportation Safety Board reported. Three of the dead were thrown out of the train as it “came off the track and was twisting and turning,” New York Fire Department Chief Edward Kilduff told reporters.
Surviving passenger Amanda Swanson told CNN the windows of the coaches broke out, and “the gravel came flying up in our faces.”
“I really didn’t know if I would survive,” said Swanson, who put her bag in front of her face to block the rubble. “The train felt like it was on its side and dragging for a long time. … The whole thing felt like slow motion.”
The train was en route to Grand Central from Poughkeepsie, 74 miles up the Hudson River, when it derailed about 7:20 a.m., NTSB member Earl Weener said Sunday. At least 67 people were injured, said Joe Bruno, New York’s commissioner of emergency management, and 11 remained in critical condition Sunday evening, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters.
The diesel locomotive was pushing passenger cars through a 30-mph curve north of the station at the time of the crash, Weener said. He said that configuration is one of many things investigators will be examining as they try to determine the cause of the wreck.
Investigators have recovered an event recorder from the locomotive and another car but haven’t yet examined them, Weener said.
“Our mission is to understand not just what happened, but why it happened, with the intent of preventing it from ever happening again,” he said.
About 150 people were on the train when it derailed, said Laureen Coyne, director of risk management for New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, which includes the Metro-North railroad. One car came to rest just feet away from the Harlem River.
“I heard this horrible, whooshing sound. … It was very disturbing, very loud,” said Hank Goldman, who lives near the tracks. “I jumped out of bed and looked out the window and I saw a light-colored object lying down. I thought it was the roadway to the train. Then I got my binoculars, and I couldn’t believe my eyes, that the train had jumped the tracks right here.”
New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority identified the dead as Donna L. Smith, 54, of Newburgh, New York; James G. Lovell, 58, of Cold Spring, New York; James M. Ferrari, 59, of Montrose, New York; and Ahn Kisook, 35, of Queens, New York.
Lovell did freelance audio and was headed into New York to work Sunday morning, said Dave Merandy, a town council member in the Hudson Valley community of Philipstown.
“He loved his family and did what was necessary to keep things afloat with his family. He was a great man,” said Merandy.
Lovell’s wife, Nancy Montgomery, sits on Philipstown’s council, and Merandy and Lovell were high school classmates, Merandy said. He leaves behind three sons and a daughter from a previous marriage.
“We’re just shocked. Completely shocked,” Merandy said.
The Metro-North Hudson Line had a ridership of 15.9 million last year, with hundreds of people riding the packed trains during weekday rush hour, officials said.
The train operator — who is among the injured — told investigators he applied brakes to the train, but it didn’t slow down, a law enforcement official on the scene and familiar with the investigation said.
“That will be a key point of concern, whether this train was moving too quickly,” Bruno said.
A freight train derailed in the same curve in July, damaging about 1,500 feet of track, the MTA reported at the time. Weener said the NTSB would look into whether there was any connection between that derailment and Sunday’s crash, but both he and Cuomo discounted the possibility.
“The curve has been here for many, many years, right, and trains take the curve every day, 365 days a year … We’ve always had this configuration. We didn’t have accidents,” Cuomo said. “So there has to be another factor, and that’s what we want to learn from the NTSB.”
Investigators will look at the condition of the track, the signal system, crew performance and other factors. They’ll also search for data and video recordings that may have captured details tied to the derailment, NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of daylight hours to do it, but we’re going to do as much as we can.”
Passenger: Train stopped with a thud
The incident quickly sparked chatter on Twitter and drew a crowd of onlookers to the scene. Passenger Frank Tatulli told WABC he thought the train was traveling “a lot faster” than usual.
He escaped a derailed car on his own and had head and neck injuries, he said. Other passengers were still on the train, he told WABC.
Another survivor told WABC that she climbed out of a train car that had overturned. Nearby, she said, she heard injured victims moaning and asking for help.
“I almost feel guilty,” she said. “I was just in a really safe spot on the train, just the way it fell.”
Swanson told CNN the train car she was in came to a stop with a thud.
“I just closed my eyes and kind of hoped to God that I was going to be able to call my mom with decent news,” Swanson said. She got off the train with her cell phone in hand: “The screen was shattered, but it still worked,” she said.
Among those hurt, one suffered a spinal cord injury that could leave him paralyzed from the neck down, said Dr. David Listman, director of the emergency department at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.
New York-Presbyterian Hospital said it was treating 17 patients, four of whom were in critical condition.
Federal authorities are also investigating another Metro-North incident in which two passenger trains crashed during rush hour in Connecticut in May.
Though no connection between the incidents has been established, one state lawmaker said Sunday that the derailments are a sign that federal investigators should examine track conditions throughout the region.
“It is important that the entire regional track infrastructure be examined to identify any chronic issues that have led to past derailments or could lead to future derailments in order to ensure the safety of the millions of people who use the trains every single day,” New York State Sen. Charles J. Fuschillo Jr. said in a statement.
Service was suspended Sunday on part of the Hudson Line and won’t be resumed until the NTSB finishes documenting the scene and returns the track to the MTA for repairs, Cuomo said.
“I think it’s fair to say tomorrow, people who use this line should plan on a long commute or plan on using the Harlem Line,” Cuomo said.
Amtrak trains were suspended between New York and Albany for hours after the derailment. On Sunday afternoon officials said service would resume with restricted speeds in the area. “Some delays can be expected,” Amtrak said.
CNN’s Eden Pontz and Lorenzo Ferrigno reported from New York. CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet and AnneClaire Stapleton reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Alexandra Field, Jon Auerbach, Nic Robertson, Dana Garrett, Shimon Prokupecz, Joe Johns, Miguel Marquez, Mike M. Ahlers, Kevin Liptak and Jia Guo contributed to this report.