May 18, 2013

USA: More Than 60 Injured, 5 Critically, After Two Passenger Trains Collide Near Fairfield, Connecticut

The NY Daily news
written by Pete Donohue, Denis Slattery and Thomas Tracy
Friday May 17, 2013

More than 60 people were hospitalized Friday — five critically — when a Metro-North train derailed and slammed into an oncoming train in Connecticut.

Officials said a New Haven-bound commuter train flew off the tracks near the Fairfield station during a “major derailment” at 6:10 p.m. and collided with a Manhattan-bound Metro-North train on an adjacent track.

It was unclear how fast the two trains were going, but Anthony Bottalico, a general chairman for the Association of Commuter Rail Employees, estimated that the New Haven-bound train was going more than 60 mph before derailing, plowing through the dirt and hitting the oncoming train.

“It’s a miracle nobody was killed,” he said, speculating that a rail either broke or was pushed out of alignment under the train’s weight.

Both the tracks and the overhead wires that power the trains were damaged, officials said.

The derailed train apparently clipped the front of the oncoming train then scraped along its side, officials said.

About 700 people were thrown about the two trains when they collided, said MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan.

Passengers like Lola Oliver, 49, found themselves flying in mid-air.

“Finally I came to a stop on one of the seats. And I just gripped it because I felt the train sliding,” Oliver said. “It happened so fast I had no idea what was going on. All I know is we crashed.”

Passenger Bradley Agar said he was in the first car of the Manhattan-bound train when he heard screaming and the window smash behind him.

“I saw the first hit, the bump, bump, bump all the way down,” said Agar, who had just returned to work after he broke his shoulder in January. Agar thought it would be safer to take Metro-North to work rather than drive while he healed, he said.

“It's clear these cars came into contact and ripped off at least a portion of siding of one of the cars,” Connecticut Gov. Dannell P. Malloy told reporters. “(There was) extensive damage in the front and the wheels and that system is sticking into the other train."

“It wasn’t a straight head-on collision, but the fronts of the two trains struck each other,” Metro-North spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

Malloy said 60 passengers were rushed to St. Vincent’s and Bridgeport hospitals. Five were in critical condition, and one was in very critical condition, Malloy said.

A hospital worker at St. Vincent’s estimated that more than 70 injured commuters were brought to the two hospitals. Most of the injuries were bumps and bruises, he said.

"Everybody seemed pretty calm," Bridgeport Police Chief Joseph Gaudett said as he described the scene. "Everybody was thankful they didn't get seriously hurt. They were anxious to get home to their families.”

The two engineers who operate the trains were not seriously harmed, Donovan said — an indication that the accident could have been much worse.

The National Transportation Safety Board will lead an investigation with the FBI, the Connecticut Office of Emergency Management and the Federal Railroad Administration to determine the cause of the derailment, but Malloy doesn’t believe the rails were sabotaged.

“There is no reason to believe it’s anything but an accident but obviously that’s something that has to be looked at,” he said.

Four sets of tracks take commuters back and forth from Manhattan to New Haven, but two of those tracks have been out of service as crews replace the overhead wires that power the trains.

Normal service through this area is not expected to resume until a full investigation is complete and repairs are made, Donovan said.

Amtrak trains between New York Penn Station and Boston have also been suspended indefinitely, the railroad said.

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