Speed likely factor in NY train derailment

Metro-North engineer William Rockefeller Jr. is loaded into an ambulance after the train derailment. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Metro-North engineer William Rockefeller Jr. is loaded into an ambulance after the train derailment. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Investigators probing the derailment of a New York passenger train hope to interview the engineer as they try to determine if speed, equipment failure or another factor caused seven cars to hurtle off the tracks, killing four passengers who were riding into Manhattan.

The victims included a family man headed into the city to help light the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree; a nurse going home after her overnight shift at a children's rehab center; a woman traveling into the city for a show with her sister, who survived; and a building superintendent going to work and described by his wife as "a wonderful husband, a wonderful daddy."

The Metro-North train No. 8808 was rounding a bend in the Bronx about 7:20am on Sunday (local time) when it flew off the tracks. All seven cars went off the rails, and some of them slid down a hill and came to rest just feet from the Harlem River.

More than 60 people were injured, 11 of them critically. More than two dozen people remained hospitalized Monday, but all were expected to survive.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it would take seven to 10 days to complete its on-site investigation. Some passengers have said they felt the train, which had left Poughkeepsie at 5:54am, was traveling too quickly on the curve, where the speed limit drops to 30 mph from 70 mph on the straight section of tracks.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he believed speed was an issue.

"I think it is going to be speed-related," Cuomo told NBC's "Today" show. "This was a tricky turn on the system, but it's a turn that has 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 more about the speed ... and the operator's operation of the train at that time."

The crash was the first in Metro-North's 30-year history to cause passenger fatalities. The victims were identified as Jim Lovell, 58; Donna L. Smith, 54; James M. Ferrari, 59; and Kisook Ahn, 35.

Lovell, who lived in Cold Spring, north of New York City, was a technician who was en route to Manhattan to help preparations for the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting later this week. He and his wife had four children, and Lovell had worked on "Today" and other NBC shows.

"Sad news: Jim Lovell, esteemed Today audio technician was among the victims of the train derailment. Our condolences to his family," the show's executive producer, Don Nash, said on Twitter on Sunday after the victims' identities were released.

Ferrari's wife, Francine, broke down in tears as she spoke to reporters at her home in Montrose, N.Y., about her husband, who was going to his job as a building superintendent in New York City.

"Jimmy was a very simple man. Everything satisfied him. He loved good food. He loved being with the family. His love made us happy," she said. "He was wonderful. I couldn't ask for someone better than him."

Ahn was a Korean immigrant who had worked since 2010 at a hospital in Ossining, N.Y., and who was on her way home to Queens after her usual 6:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift. "She was just loved and adored by all of the nurses and children here," Linda Mosiello, the director of the facility, Sunshine Children's Home and Rehab Center, told the Wall Street Journal.

Smith, who lived in Newburgh, N.Y., worked as a paralegal and volunteered in several organizations, including Girl Scouts. She was very close to her sister, Linda, and the two often traveled into Manhattan together to shop or take in shows. They were together on Sunday; Linda survived, but Donna did not.

"It seemed like whenever I saw Donna, she was with her sister," a neighbor, Lynn Davis, said, Newsday reported. "They were like two peas in a pod. They just had each other."

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