NEW YORK — A New York City commuter train rounding a riverside curve derailed Sunday, killing four people, injuring more than 60 and sending a chain of toppled cars trailing off the track just inches from the water, authorities said.
Some of the 100 to 150 passengers on the early morning Metro-North train from suburban Poughkeepsie to Manhattan were jolted from sleep around 7:20 a.m. to screams and the frightening sensation of their compartment rolling over on a bend where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet in the Bronx. When the motion stopped, four or five of the seven cars were off the rails in the latest, and deadliest, example of this year's troubles for the nation's second-biggest commuter railroad.
"Four people lost their lives today in the holiday season, right after Thanksgiving," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference. Eleven of the injured were believed to be critically injured and another six seriously hurt, according to the Fire Department.
The train operator was among the injured, Cuomo said.
Cuomo said the track did not appear to be faulty, leaving speed as a possible culprit for the crash, but he noted that the National Transportation Safety Board would determine what happened.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Thomas F. Prendergast said investigators would look at numerous factors, including the train, the track and signal system, the operators and speed.
The speed limit on the curve is 30 mph, compared with 70 mph in the area before the curve, MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said. The train's data recorders should be able to tell how fast it was traveling, she said.
One passenger, Frank Tatulli, told WABC-TV that the train appeared to be going "a lot faster" than usual as it approached the sharp curve near the Spuyten Duyvil station. The station's name comes from a Dutch word for a local waterway, sometimes translated as "Devil's whirlpool."
While some passengers were headed to work, others aboard the train were probably going to New York for holiday shopping -- and many more might have joined them had the train been later in the morning.
Joel Zaritsky was dozing as he traveled to the city for a dental convention.
"I woke up when the car started rolling several times. Then I saw the gravel coming at me, and I heard people screaming," he told The Associated Press, holding his bloody right hand. "There was smoke everywhere and debris. People were thrown to the other side of the train."
Nearby residents awoke to a building-shaking boom. Angel Gonzalez was in bed in his high-rise apartment overlooking the rail curve when he heard the roar.
"I thought it was a plane that crashed," he said.
Mike Gallo heard the same noise as he was walking his dog. He looked down at the tracks and "knew it was a tragedy right away. I saw injured people climbing out of the train."
Within minutes, dozens of emergency crews arrived and carried passengers away on stretchers, some wearing neck braces. Firefighters shattered windows of the toppled train cars to reach injured passengers.