Preliminary report on Metro North derailment finds MTA knew about track problems

Indications of problems with the tracks where a Metro-North train derailed and was struck by another train were found two days before the May 17 accident, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The crash of two trains injured 75 people, according to the NTSB.

There were about 250 people on each train at the time of the crash, according to the NTSB, which occurred about 6 p.m. Friday, May 17, at the Bridgeport-Fairfield line, where tracks cross under I-95 and over Fairfield Avenue.

During a thrice-weekly inspection on May 15, workers found a joint “with inadequate supporting ballast and indications of vertical movement of the track system,” according to the NTSB report, which the agency stressed is preliminary.

A train heading east from Grand Central Terminal to New Haven derailed when it hit that joint, shortly after leaving the Fairfield Metro station. The first car reportedly remained on the track, while subsequent cars jumped.

The cars that derailed were then struck by a westbound train that had just left the Bridgeport station. The westbound train scraped against the derailed cars and gouged into one.

The maximum speed authorized in the area of the crash is 70 miles per hour. There are four tracks there, but only two were operational due to an ongoing electrical project.

“Initial information obtained from onboard event recorders indicates that the eastbound  train was traveling at about 70 mph when it derailed,” the NTSB report reads. “After the eastbound train came to rest, it  was fouling the adjacent track, track 2, and was struck about 20 seconds later by the  westbound train. Initial information from the event recorders indicate that the westbound train  engineer applied the emergency brakes, slowing from 70 mph to 23 mph prior to striking the  eastbound train.”

Metro-North estimated the damage — both trains were new M8 models — at $18 million.

Rail service was suspended until the next Wednesday, when track repairs were completed.

In a statement after the release of this preliminary report, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a Greenwich resident, said, “These revelations raise more questions than answers — deeply disturbing questions concerning possible immediate and urgent safety issues that must be answered right away. People who rely on our rail systems every day deserve a comprehensive and complete report now. The NTSB has said that it needs a year to complete its investigation. That delay is unacceptable. I urge the NTSB to give an expedited date when it will set forth what the safety problems were, how they can and will be addressed, and who should be held accountable.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) also released a statement, saying, “NTSB today revealed that the tracks at the site of the crash were compromised, and that MTA knew about it. Given this new information, it is absolutely imperative that NTSB quickly follow today’s report with recommendations to make the line safer. I spoke with the Chairman of NTSB this afternoon, and told her that riders along the line deserve to see NTSB’s final report as quickly as possible, so that they can have confidence that their commute is as safe as it has historically been along one of the nation’s most traveled lines.”

Mr. Murphy added he had been told that the NTSM would provide an update “as they had additional information or preliminary recommendations.”

“Riders deserve to know why reports of the compromised track were not immediately remedied, and only NTSB has the stature and authority to provide us with these answers,” Mr. Murphy said. “They should do so, and quickly.”

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