Nightly News   |  December 01, 2013

New York train derailment kills four, injures dozens

Investigators want to know why a New York City bound train derailed, killing four people and injuring dozens more. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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>>> there are already some indications of what may have caused the commuter train to fly off the rails, killing four people. the metro north train was headed to new york 's grand central station but derailed in the bronx. about a dozen miles short of its destination. flinging some passengers from the cars they were riding in and leaving others dazed and injured. in all, more than 60 people were injured. 11 critically. tonight, investigators are already beginning to focus on the train's speed. we have full coverage of the crash and its travel impact, starting with tom costello who was just above the scene.

>> reporter: good evening. that's the train behind me. you can sigh four of the cars are on their side there. the big question tonight, how fast it was train going as it came around this bend? 100 people were on board at the time. they have broken bones , head lacerations, some head trauma . meanwhile both the conductor and the engineer are in the hospital. the ntsb is now in charge of this investigation, trying to determine how did that happen? early sunday morning, a massive emergency response in new york . a twisted and broken metro north train on its side after crashing to a sudden violent stop. passengers said it all happened in a blink.

>> we were going fast. as it hit the curve, it was flying.

>> there was screaming and people crying out to god and asking for their families.

>> reporter: the train left poughkeepsie, new york , at 5:54 bound for grand central station in manhattan. at approximately 7:20 a.m ., less than 20 minutes from its final destination , it went off the tracks in the bronx alongside the hudson river . seven cars pushed by a locomotive derailed. dan cohen 's apartment is right above the crash. he took these first images.

>> it sounded like a plane crash that kept going on and on. that buckling sound of the train's cars hitting each other and going. on it lasted about ten seconds.

>> reporter: arriving firefighters found three victims had been thrown from the cars.

>> we had evidence of people under a couple of cars. we actually used airbags to lift the car.

>> reporter: in all, four dead, 63 injured. already the governor has said early evidence suggests the train may have been traveling much too fast. coming into the station, they make a 90-degree turn. in this case the passenger cars went straight off the tracks and straight toward the river. since speed was a factor, the question is why?

>> we don't know what the train's speed was. we will learn that from the vehicle event recorders. and incidentally, we have recovered the event recorder off the cab car .

>> reporter: there has been trouble near this section of track before. in july, a freight train derailed near the same curve. last month the ntsb raised concerns about track maintenance on metro north lines. investigators will look at whether the crew was paying attention. recent fatal accidents of both california and spain were tied to speed and distracted train operators who were texting.

>> they will take a. to test of the crew immediately following the accident. and they'll look into their rest periods for the previous 72 hours . fatigue is a critical issue in transportation.

>> there is no reason why people coming home from a holiday should be dead. no reason for it.

>> reporter: back live and looking over this train crash scene, the engineer has reportedly said that he tried to apply the brakes just before the crash but apparently, he says, the brakes didn't work. we're told this engineer has quite a bit of experience with mta. they have to come to a dramatic slowdown here. it goes from 70 miles an hour to 30 as you come around this bend. did the brakes not work? did he not hit the brakes? those are questions central to this investigation. they've already managed to pull the black box out of the train. that will be a key piece of evidence in this investigation.