Train Collision on Metro-North in Bridgeport – Over 60 People Injured

“At this stage, we don’t know if this is a mechanical failure, an accident or something deliberate,” said Fairfield Police spokesman Lt. James Perez. – Two Metro-North Railroad trains collided and one derailed at 6:10 p.m. Friday, May 17, 2013, in the vicinity of Commerce Drive along the Fairfield-Bridgeport, Conn. line.

May 18, 2013

Tremont Sheldon P.C. sends thoughts and prayers to the injured and their families of Friday night’s train collision in our home town of Bridgeport. We have all personally traveled on those trains hundreds of times. The article below is a summary that appeared in the Connecticut Post.

Two Metro-North Railroad trains collided Friday shortly after 6 p.m. near the Fairfield-Bridgeport line, injuring 60 people and effectively tearing up the track between the South Norwalk and Bridgeport stations.

Among the 60 patients transported to Bridgeport Hospital and St. Vincent’s Medical Center, five were described as critical and one as “very critical,” Gov. Daniel P. Malloy said during a news conference late Friday.

The crash disabled the rail lines, officials said, essentially creating a 15-mile dead zone between the Bridgeport and South Norwalk stations until at least Monday.

For now, New Haven-bound service will stop at the South Norwalk station. New York-bound service will stop at the Bridgeport station.

On Saturday, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board will start working to piece together how the crash occurred while crews from Metro-North start to repair the tracks.

But until the investigation runs its course, Malloy said officials could not speculate on whether the cars, the track or a criminal act caused the derailment and crash, although the incident was at least presumed to be the result of an accident Friday.

“We can’t rule anything out but we’re certainly not promoting [terrorism] as what we believe is the cause,” he said.

The crash occurred beneath the Interstate 95 overpass which carries the highway above Commerce Drive, with the two trains colliding just under the eastern side of the overpass.

The trains suffered significant damage to their front ends and siding, Malloy said, and it appeared their wheels systems had jammed together in the crash.

“Everything was going smooth and fine until there was this huge crash,” said Natalie Sepulveda, who had stepped onto the westbound train in Bridgeport with her 2-year-old son, Jordan, on a trip to see the child’s father in South Norwalk.

“All I seen was smoke and I just grabbed my son and I was like `Where is the nearest exit?'” she said.

Sepulveda said she all but panicked that the rising dust and smoke would trigger her son’s chronic asthma and raced for the door until firefighters entering her car warned the passengers of the risk of electrocution from live wires.

Both trains are the latest model M-8 railcars that just began entering service last year, said Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Aaron Donovan.

“It’s most likely a track thing [that caused the accident], but I’m just speculating at this point,” Donovan said.

Friday’s crash marked the first time since 1988 that two Metro-North trains have collided resulting in injuries.

A 42-year-old engineer from Stamford died in the April 6, 1988, crash after his train slammed into a stopped train in Mount Vernon, N.Y.

Normally, four tracks run through that area in Fairfield, although two have been out of service to allow for work to overhead electrical lines. Explosive-sniffing dogs were later brought through the area by Metropolitan Transportation Authority police officers.

Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara said it appeared initially that the trains had “clipped” or glanced off of one another after one train — he believed the westbound train — derailed.

“Thankfully they did not collide head-on,” he said, adding that the number of injured would have been far greater in that event.

Jason Kolbenheyer had taken the 5:30 train out of New Haven to head to New York with his family when, about 30 minutes later, he “all of a sudden felt a huge sort of crash” and saw smoke.

“It was like getting rear-ended in a car. That’s what it felt like,” he said.

While Kolbenheyer waited for a cab to pick him up, Lora Brooks, a makeup artist from Staten Island, N.Y., struggled toward the road and repeated a common refrain among the passengers — “this is crazy.”

Like Sepulveda, Brooks, who had spent her day in the Park City distributing donated prom dresses at Bassick and Central high schools, got on the train in Bridgeport and had barely settled into her seat when “the train just shook.”

“It hadn’t been no more than 10 minutes … You could feel it,” she said. “The train just jumped.”

Although he did not know what might have caused the derailment, James Cameron, head of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, said authorities must rule out a mechanical problem as soon as possible because “If there’s something wrong with the cars, as opposed to the track, we need to find out immediately because we are retiring these older cars.”

All Metro-North trains are equipped with a cab-signalling system that shoots a warning signal through the rail lines, alerting engineers when two trains come dangerously close and urging them to slow down to 15 miles per hour or less. If the warning goes unheeded, the system is supposed to automatically halt the train after a few moments.

“We have no reason to believe it was anything but an accident,” Malloy said during his press briefing at the scene.

While the investigation into the cause of Friday’s crash will likely take several days if not longer to come up with a definitive explanation, MacNamara, the Fairfield police chief, pointed out one thing authorities did know for certain on Friday.

“I can tell you what we do know: trains are supposed to pass by each other freely, so something had to happen,” he said.

Buses were being used Friday to transport commuters stopped at the South Norwalk station to the Bridgeport station and vice versa. Malloy said a similar arrangement would likely remain in effect in the coming days to accommodate what is a predominantly commuter line.

A statement on Amtrak website Friday night said “Amtrak Acela Express and Northeast Regional service remains suspended indefinitely in the Boston area. Northeast Corridor trains are terminating at New York Penn Station.”

Soon after, a parade of mostly uninjured but confused commuters struggled to drag luggage over the tracks’ gravel bed and out onto Commerce Drive, some wondering just where they were and all worried how they could get where they were going.

Over the next couple of hours, the stream of stranded passengers filing away from the tracks and onto Commerce Drive grew into the hundreds, nearly all of them with cell phones pressed to their ears, some pulling luggage, children or both in their wake.

Meanwhile, police officers responding from Fairfield and Bridgeport along with fire crews worked to make sure the trains were empty and all passengers were accounted for.

“There’s no manifest of passengers so we don’t know who got on or who got off,” Fairfield Police spokesman Lt. James Perez said.

By 8 p.m., a line of about 12 Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority buses as well as common school buses stretched from Commerce Drive down Dewey Street waiting to transport the passengers to the Bridgeport and Fairfield train stations.

Waiting to board one of the buses, Roxana Olivares, of Meriden, said she hoped to somehow resume her trip to New York to see her boyfriend and register for classes at Queensborough College once she made it to the station.

She had been in the third car back from the front of the westbound train when the collision occurred and “we didn’t know what happened.”

“We just thought it was an explosion,” she said.

As reported in the Connecticut Post.

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