Wednesday, April 16, 2014
spite of the devil

Officials question, was train crash preventable?

By Shant Shahrigian
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Spuyten Duyvil ("in spite of the Devil," in Dutch) garnered its ominous name from the treacherous whirlpools where two rivers meet, but it was a railroad curve that brought disaster on Sunday, December 1.

District 11 Councilman G. Oliver Koppell and a Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) board member who lives in Riverdale are questioning whether Sunday’s deadly train crash was preventable.

“This is an accident that should certainly not have happened,” Mr. Koppell said. “Whether human error was involved, it’s obviously too early to tell. I’m very skeptical that human error wasn’t involved.”

The MTA board member, Charles Moerdler, said if the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had quickly concluded its investigation of a July freight train crash near the site of Sunday’s incident, the conclusions could have helped prevent the latest crash.

“If there was any lesson to be learned from that event, it should have been taught before the second event,” said Mr. Moerdler, who also chairs the Community Board 8 Land Use Committee. “And to my mind, that’s unconscionable.”

On July 18, a freight train transporting garbage derailed on Metro-North’s Hudson Line near the Spuyten Duyvil station, suspending Metro-North service.

An MTA spokesperson confirmed the NTSB has not concluded its investigation of the July incident. The NTSB did not return a request for comment as of press time, although other news outlets quoted the board as saying the July and Sunday crashes were not related.

On Monday night, the NTSB said the train in the crash on Sunday was traveling 82 mph in a 30-mph zone at the time of the incident. The board added it was unclear whether that was due to an equipment malfunction or to human error.

Mr. Koppell said once the NTSB report is complete, the city council should hold hearings into the crash.

Mr. Moerdler said he expects NTSB officials to complete the report by January — a faster pace than the investigation into the July incident, which is still incomplete. 

“I’m seriously troubled by the fact it takes the NTSB months and months and months to give us a report,” Mr. Moerdler said. “If we had known, for example, the outcome of the first accident, maybe there would have been a clue to help us with the second one.”

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Mr. Moerdler, Are you claiming that you and your fellow MTA Board members need an NTSB report to know that traveling 82 mph on a sharp curve in a 30 mph zone is unsafe and to take action to prevent it? Isn't it the responsibility of the MTA Board to run its railroads safely before passengers are strewn on the track in December as garbage was in July?

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