Alex Witt   |  December 01, 2013

What we could learn from train investigation

Alex Witt talks to former managing director for the NTSB Peter Goelz about what the NTSB will look for when inspecting the site of the derailment.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> suggest that they call 311. there is a system in place to aid those looking for individuals that they can't find.

>> and as we welcome you back to "weekends with alex witt ," that is ray kelly of the nypd telling people how to access information on their loved ones who may have been on board that train. it is a breaking news story. we're going to update you now as the metro north commuter train was headed to new york's grand central station . it derailed just before 7:30 eastern time this morning. four people are dead. at least 63 reportedly wounded. 11 of them critically. right now, medical personnel , the nypd and firefighters remain at the scene. joining me now, the former managing director for the ntsb . peter, as i welcome you and i know you've seen these pictures, as you look at them, can you speculate given the placement of that train, how far it is away from the tracks, the position it's in what may have caused it to derail?

>> no, it's really too soon to speculate. but i can tell you what the ntsb and the fra are going to be looking at. they're going to look at the condition of the track bed , the condition of the rails. they'll look at the speed of the train. they'll see if there was anything that could have interfered to cause this derailment, and they're going to look at the engineer, was he performing his task as he was assigned? you know, was he distracted? had he had enough rest? it's a pretty standard investigation. but it will be thorough.

>> yeah. peter, i'm looking at that which governor cuomo said, just paraphrasing a couple points of note, this train is supposed to reduce from 70 miles an hour to a 30-mile-an-hour zone. it would seem that it did not do that. typically brake problems, how often does that come into play in a situation like this?

>> well, you know, these trains have very reliable mechanical systems . they will look at the event quarter on the engine. while it's not as complex as, say, the black box on a commercial airplane, it will tell you how fast a train was going, whether brakes were being applied, whether the brakes were effective in slowing the train down, if they were applied. if it's a question of speed, that will come out very early in the investigation.

>> okay. overall, how long until you get conclusive answers, though, typically in something like? given the fact there are four fatalities, well over 60 injuries, and a lot of people still pretty shaken up.

>> well, the ntsb typically takes a year or slightly less in their investigations. but they give daily briefings. we'll have some indication of what happened here within the next two to three days.

>> peter, are you concerned at all about the overall infrastructure, the extent to which the wear and tear after so many years on these rails that they start breaking down, their cracks and problems and need to be repaired?

>> there's no question an ageing infrastructure is a serious problem in this country. you know, metro north just had got through a two-day hearing with the ntsb less than a month ago. the topic of the hearing, it zeroed in on track maintenance, oversight, and inspections. so hopefully they testified that they were doing better. let's hope that's true.

>> okay. a question about foul play . does that cross your mind in an incident like this?

>> there is always a question of foul play . the fbi and the local police are always part of the investigation from the opening stages of it. whether somebody puts something on the track, something like that, it will be determined.

>> okay. peter, thank you so much. former managing director for the ntsb . appreciate your insights.

>> thank you.