Source: USA TODAY
FAIRFIELD, CONN. — Investigators say it’s too soon to know what caused a commuter train to derail Friday, injuring 70 people when it slammed into another train heading in the opposite direction.
But a team from the National Transportation Safety Board, which arrived Saturday, is expected to be on site for seven to 10 days to find out what happened.
After surveying the devastating scene Saturday morning, authorities said in a Saturday briefing that it was fortunate no one was killed.
“The damage is absolutely staggering,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, describing the shattered interior of cars and tons of metal tossed around. “I feel that we are fortunate that even more injuries were not the result of this very tragic and unfortunate accident.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy echoed that, saying it was “frankly amazing” people weren’t killed on scene.
Three patients remained in critical condition Saturday morning, with two of those stable, according to officials at two Bridgeport hospitals.
Gov. Dannel Malloy couldn’t say when Metro-North Railroad service would be restored. The crash also caused Amtrak to suspend service between New York and Boston.
Federal investigators will look at the brakes and performance of the trains, the condition of the tracks, crew performance and train signal information, among other things.
NTSB board member Earl Weener says it’s too early to speculate on a cause for the collision.
The NTSB team was surveying the wrecked trains and mangled rails on Saturday morning with Malloy, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and other Connecticut officials, Malloy’s office said.
The damaged trains are likely to remain at the scene for days, until the NTSB finishes its on-site probe.
“When we get approval from NTSB, we’re going to have to have a crane come in and lift the damaged train cars,” Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Aaron Donovan said Saturday.
Service will not return to normal until repairs are made to the tracks and equipment involved.
At a news conference Friday night, Malloy said there was no reason to believe the crash was anything other than an accident. He said he hoped the NTSB investigation would conclude on-site by Monday.
“We’re most concerned about the injured and ultimately reopening the system,” Malloy said from the scene about three hours after the 6:10 p.m. crash.
Passengers described a chaotic, terrifying scene of crunching metal and flying bodies.
“All I know was I was in the air, hitting seats, bouncing around, flying down the aisle and finally I came to a stop on one seat,” Lola Oliver, 49, of Bridgeport, told the Associated Press. “It happened so fast I had no idea what was going on. All I know is we crashed.”
About 700 people were on board the Metro-North trains when one heading east from New York City’s Grand Central Station to New Haven derailed just outside Bridgeport, MTA and Bridgeport officials said.
Service on the New Haven Line was suspended between South Norwalk and New Haven. According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Twitter feed, service would not return to normal on the line until “a full investigation is complete and repairs are made.”
Malloy said the incident affected rail traffic along the entire Northeast Corridor, including Amtrak trains, which have been suspended indefinitely between New York’s Penn Station and Boston.
Metro-North officials said the 5:30 p.m. out of Grand Central Terminal, due at New Haven at 7:18 p.m., derailed in the area of Bridgeport.
“The eastbound train derailed, which is what caused the trains to collide. It derailed in such a way that it went into the path of the westbound train on an adjacent track,” said Aaron Donovan, a Metro-North spokesman.
A westbound train, the 4:41 p.m. out of New Haven, due in Grand Central at 7:18 p.m., collided with the first train, leaving both trains derailed, officials said. Malloy said most of the injured were traveling in the rail cars affected by the impact — the third car on one train, the lead car on the other.
Police and emergency medical responders treated the wounded, who were taken to Bridgeport Hospital and St. Vincent’s Medical Center, both in Bridgeport.
Passenger Bradley Agar of Westport, Conn., said he was in the first car of the westbound train when he heard screaming and the window smash behind him.
“I saw the first hit, the bump, bump, bump all the way down,” he said.
Agar had returned to work this week for the first time since breaking his shoulder in January. And since he was still healing, he thought it would be safer to take the train than drive.
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said the disruption caused by the train accident could cost the region’s economy millions of dollars.
“A lot of people rely on this, and we’ve got to get this reconnected as soon as possible,” Finch said.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority operates the Metro-North Railroad, the second-largest commuter railroad in the nation. The Metro-North main lines — the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven — run northward from New York City’s Grand Central Terminal into suburban New York and Connecticut.
Contributing: The Associated Press