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Cause of train wreck unclear

| Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

NEW YORK — A New York City commuter train rounding a riverside curve derailed on Sunday, killing four and injuring more than 60 in a crash that threw some riders from toppling cars and swiftly raised questions about whether excessive speed, mechanical problems or human error played a role.

Some of the approximately 150 passengers on the early morning Metro-North train from Poughkeepsie to Manhattan were jolted from sleep about 7:20 a.m. by screams and the frightening sensation of their compartment rolling over on a bend in the Bronx where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet. When the motion stopped, all seven cars and the locomotive were off the rails, and the lead car was just inches from the water.

Two men and two women were killed in the crash, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the railroad. The victims, all from New York, were identified as Jim Lovell, 58, of Cold Spring; James Ferrari, 59, of Montrose; Donna Smith, 54, of Newburgh; and Ahn Kisook, 35, of Queens.

Three of the victims were found outside the train, authorities said.

Eleven passengers were believed to be critically injured and six seriously hurt.

Joel Zaritsky, who was traveling to a dental convention, said he woke up when he felt his car overturning.

“Then I saw the gravel coming at me, and I heard people screaming,” he said, holding his bloody right hand. “There was smoke everywhere and debris. People were thrown to the other side of the train.”

In their efforts to find passengers, rescuers shattered windows, searched nearby woods and the water, and used pneumatic jacks and air bags to peer under wreckage. Crews planned to bring in cranes during the night to right the overturned cars on the chance anyone might be underneath, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said.

The agency was just beginning its investigation of what caused the derailment, and Weener said investigators had not yet spoken to the train conductor, who was among the injured.

Investigators planned to examine factors ranging from the track's condition to the crew's performance.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the track did not appear to be faulty, leaving speed as a possible culprit for the crash. The speed limit on the curve is 30 mph, compared with 70 mph in the area approaching it, Weener said, noting that authorities do not know how fast the train was traveling but had found a data recorder.

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.

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, saw injured people climbing out of the train and “knew it was a tragedy right away.”

Within minutes, dozens of emergency crews arrived and carried passengers away on stretchers, some wearing neck braces. Others, bloodied and scratched, held ice packs to their heads.

To Cuomo, the scene “looked like a toy train set that was mangled by some super-powerful force,” he said.

As deadly as the derailment was, the toll could have been far greater had it happened on a weekday, or had the lead car plunged into the water instead of nearing it. The train was about half-full at the time of the crash, rail officials said.

“On a workday, fully occupied, it would have been a tremendous disaster,” New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Joseph Cassano told reporters at the scene. The affected line, called the Hudson line, carries about 18,000 people on an average weekday morning.

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