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No Sign Of Mechanical Malfunction, Alcohol Use By Crew In Train Derailment

Photo Credit: NTSB

YONKERS, N.Y. - There is no indication of any mechanical malfunction in the train, rails, or signal system involved the Metro-North Hudson Line derailment Sunday, which killed four and injured others, the NTSB announced Tuesday at a press conference at the Hampton Inn in Yonkers.

In addition, alcohol tests for the crew have come back negative, said Earl Weener of the National Transportation Safety Board. Drug tests are still pending.

“We looked at data from each of the nine stops along the route, and saw no anomalies or degradation in the braking system performance as the trip went along. Simply put, based on these data, there’s no information to suggest the brake system was not functioning properly,” he said.

Weener said that investigators had begun detailed inspections of the individual cars and locomotive on Tuesday.

Anthony Bottalico, general chairman of The Association of Commuter Rail Employees, the union representing Rockefeller, told The Daily Voice that Rockefeller is a competent engineer.

“I’ve known him for 15 years," Bottalico said. "He’s a good man. He’s very traumatized by the loss of life. There was no criminal intent. It was an honest mistake.”

Bottalico said Rockefeller told investigators he nodded off and did not come to until it was too late.

"People make these mistakes all the time when they're driving their cars," he said.

Bottalico added the union was providing Rockefeller with legal counsel.

Speed is still being considered as a main factor in the derailment. According to Weener, the train was traveling at 82 mph in a 75-mph zone when it went through a 30-mph curve.

The train had previously stopped at Tarrytown Station, and had been traveling continuously for about 20 minutes.

Weener said it is still too early to call the engineer’s state of mind at the time of the accident, and would not comment on reports of Rockefeller being “zoned out” or asleep as the train went into the curve.

Weener would not conclude whether the accident was the result of mechanical or human error. He did, however, touch on the NTSB’s recommendation of adding positive train control technology (PTC) to all trains.

“Broadly speaking, we know that human error can’t be eradicated, and that PTC is capable of supplementing the human operation," Weener said. "These systems provide a safety redundancy by stopping a train operating out of accordance with signals, speed limits, or other operating rules. Since this is a derailment involving a high-speed train, it is possible that PTC could have prevented it."

Weener said the engineer, identified as William Rockefeller, is currently undergoing interviews with investigators.

According to the NTSB report, Rockefeller was in the second day of his workweek, and had begun his shift on time at 5:04 a.m. A conductor and three assistant conductors accompanied Rockefeller on the train at the time of the accident.

According to Weener, Rockefeller has worked for the Metro-North for 15 years, spending 10 years as an engineer.

Weener stated the conference would be the last held by the NTSB, and all further updates from the investigation would come from Washington, D.C.