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NYC train car lacked safety alert, source says

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:15 p.m.

NEW YORK — The New York commuter train that derailed killing four people on Sunday had a safety system designed to keep its engineer alert, but it was not installed in the car from which he was controlling the train, a source familiar with the railroad's operations said.

The engineer, William Rockefeller, 46, told authorities he became dazed and lost focus shortly before the crash as the train took a curve at three times the speed limit, investigators said.

The source said Metro-North commuter railroad trains such as the one on the ill-fated Poughkeepsie-New York City run are equipped with two safety systems to alert fatigued or distracted engineers.

In one system, every 25 seconds the train is in motion, an alert sounds unless the engineer makes at least a minor movement of the throttle or controller, indicating he or she is alert. If the engineer is idle, the system soon automatically starts applying the train's brakes.

On the train that derailed on the curve entering Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx, the diesel locomotive was equipped with the driver alert system, the source said.

But the driver was running the train from a “control cab” at the front of the first passenger carriage, not from the locomotive pushing seven carriages from the rear, and this control cab did not have the alerting system, the source added.

“The locomotive had an alerter. The (control) cab didn't,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity during an ongoing investigation.

Few if any Metro-North trains set up in similar push-pull configurations — where the locomotive pulls the train one way, then pushes it on the return trip — are equipped with the driver alert system at both ends, the source said.

A former supervisor of the driver at Metro-North confirmed the source's description, although he was unable to say how the derailed train was equipped.

“I know the locomotive end would have had to have this touch system, but I don't know the model of the car, so I can't say for sure whether or not it was equipped with the system,” Michael McLendon, a recently retired assistant director of Metro-North's shops and facilities team, told Reuters.

The Federal Railway Administration and National Transportation Safety Board declined to comment on the alert systems on the derailed train, saying such information is part of the ongoing accident investigation.

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