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Gov. Cuomo: I think NYC train crash was 'about the speed'

Dec. 2, 2013 at 8:06 AM ET

As investigators analyze black-box data from Sunday's deadly Bronx, N.Y. Metro North train derailment, Governor Andrew Cuomo told Matt Lauer he suspects they'll find a mixture of speed and human error were at play.

Three options "are on the table," Cuomo said on TODAY Monday. "Problem with the track, equipment problem or operator error. I’m not an expert in this field. Working with the experts over the past day, I think it is going to be speed-related."

The accident occurred at a sharp bend in the tracks, but Cuomo discounted that as a cause.

"This was a tricky turn on the system, but it’s a turn that’s been here for decades and trains negotiate all day long. It’s not about the turn. I think it’s going to turn out to be about the speed more than anything, and the operator’s operation of the train at that time.” 

The scene of the crash was "actually much worse than it looked," Cuomo said. “It was truly a horrific situation. From the pictures you see, the trains are tossed about. It looks like a child’s train set that was just strewn about.

“As the cars were skidding across the ground, they were actually picking up a lot of debris. A lot of the dirt and the stones and the tree limbs were going through the cars. It actually looked worse up close. It’s your worst nightmare. People get on the train in the morning, they think they’re going to have just another day, and then tragedy strikes.”

The black box data recorder has been recovered from the train, which investigators hope will tell them how fast the train was traveling and whether there was a mechanical problem. All seven cars of the Metro-North Commuter Railroad train jumped the tracks at around 7:22 a.m., killing four people and injuring 63 others, according to investigators. The train started in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., at 5:54 a.m., bound for Grand Central Station in Manhattan before coming off the tracks 20 minutes before arriving at its destination. 

Survivor Joel Zaritsky, 50, a dentist from Poughkeepsie who was headed into Manhattan for a conference, told TODAY it was "the most horrific scene I've ever seen. I never heard the brakes go on." 

Among the dead were two women and two men, including Jim Lovell, an audio technician who had worked for TODAY for 20 years. He is survived by his wife, Nancy Montgomery, three sons and a daughter. At St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, where at least 10 victims were taken, officials said critical patients had spinal cord injuries and broken bones.

National Transportation Safety Board officials are working to determine whether the cause was mechanical or human error. They have not yet given a timetable for when they will be reporting their findings, according to Cuomo. The train needed to slow from 70 to 30 miles per hour to get around the curve, but many witnesses report it was going much faster. The engineer has told law enforcement that the brakes malfunctioned. 

"Our mission is to understand not just what happened but why it happened, with the intent of preventing it from happening again," NTSB board member Earl Weener told reporters at the scene.

"First of all, we want to know the best we can what happened because we want to learn from this,’’ Cuomo said. “If there’s anything that the MTA can do to improve their service by looking at this tragedy, we obviously want to do it. We also want to get service restored because as your piece said, this is a very busy line, and it’s going to be problematic for the commuters, and we’d like to get service up towards the end of the week.”



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