Nightly News   |  December 02, 2013

Train speed was 82 mph at 30 mph curve

Investigators announced Monday that speed was a factor in the Metro North train crash that killed four and injured 63 at the Spuyten Duyvil curve in the Bronx. Along that stretch of the Hudson line, trains can run 70 mph, but as they enter the curve they are supposed to slow to 30 mph. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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

>>> good evening. late today, federal investigators said the new york-bound commuter train that derailed this weekend was doing over 80 miles an hour going into a tight and critical turn that is meant for speeds of only 30. if these were high-speed commuter trains that would be one thing. these same track beds for used when fdr took the train north to hyde park . something went wrong sunday morning. the process of determining if it was human error or mechanical error or both is now under way. so is the grieving for the victims of this crash and recovery for the injured. we begin tonight just above the scene of the wreck with nbc's tom costello. tom, good evening.

>> reporter: brian, good evening. behind me is the george washington bridge . down below, the tracks flooded with lights. they have removed all of the trains. the ntsb talked to the engineer on the train. we don't know exactly what he's told them about the crash. it's not clear that there wasn't a mechanical problem. but we can say that the ntsb is looking very closely at what the engineer did. on the tracks in the bronx, crews lifted the remains of the broken train as investigators went in for a closer look. tonses of twisted steel scraped and crushed from sunday's violent crash. late today the ntsb announced the two black boxes recovered from the train have revealed a stunning development.

>> the train was traveling at approximately 82 miles per hour as it went into a 30 miles an hour curve.

>> reporter: 82 miles an hour. only six seconds before the train came to a complete stop. engine power was cut back. then the engineer suddenly applied full brakes.

>> when i heard about the speed, i gulped. it sort of takes your breath away.

>> reporter: the engineer told police he applied the brakes but they didn't work. investigators say they are not aware of problems with the brakes and they had worked at the nine stops before the train crashed. along this stretch of the hudson line trains can run at 70 miles per hour but they must slow dramatically down to 30 miles per hour as they make that left-hand turn. for whateveren reason, that didn't happen. the engineer was in the first car as all the trains came barrelling off the trackses coming to rest within inches of the t harlem river . seven car s came around and flew off the tracks. rail sources say had the cars gone into the river many people could have drowned. speed and driver inattention have been factors in other disasters. in spain 79 people died in a crash that investigators blamed on the engineer who was speeding and texting. in 2008 , 25 died in california. the ntsb said that driver was speeding and texting before the crash. ntsb investigators are looking at the cell phone belonging to sunday's engineer.

>> we certainly will be looking at the cell phone . we have found distraction to be an issue in a number of accidents, but not all accidents by any means.

>> reporter: this wreck comes two years before the federal deadline for railroads to install something called positive train control , automatic braking systems. the metro north system has been pushing for a they talking about the cost and complexity of the system. experts say it may have meant the difference between life and death in this case. brian?

>> tom costello in new york tonight. tom, thanks.