BRONX — The Metro-North train that killed four people and injured dozens of other post-Thanksgiving travelers was going 82 mph — more than 50 miles over the speed limit — before hitting a tight curve and going off the rails, according to federal crash investigators.
MTA engineer William Rockefeller, who worked for the commuter railway for two decades, didn't hit the brakes for the sharp curve until just seconds before the 7:20 a.m. crash, National Transportation Safety Board Member Earl Weener said during a press conference Monday.
"It was only 6 seconds before everything came to a stop that the throttle came to idle... Very late in the game," Weener said. A second later, preliminary analysis of two train's two data recorders shows the engineer slammed on the brakes, he said.
The engineer could not be reached for comment.
Rockefeller was supposed to have reduced his speed to 30 MPH by the time he came to the sharp curve in Spuyten Duyvil, and was never supposed to have exceeded 70 MPH, Weener said.
He added that Rockefeller was given a drug and alcohol test after the crash, but the results haven't come back yet. Crash investigators have taken his cell phone as part of the probe.
The NTSB would not say if the excessive speed and late brake application was due to operator error or mechanical failure.
"That’s the question we need to answer. At this point this is preliminary data. It tells us what happened, it doesn’t tell us why this happened." Weener said.
Senator Chuck Schumer added that while the information is preliminary, it's troubling.
"For the train to be going at 80 mph around the curve is a frightening thought, raises so many questions, and is scary," Schumer said, adding that the tracks were "OK" before the crash.
"There are two choices. One would be human error on behalf of the engineer. The other would be machine error on the part of the locomotive."
Schumer said that the train's brakes are being investigated, following reports that the conductor told investigators that the brakes weren't working.
“The train did make 9 stops before coming to this curve, and so clearly the brakes were working a short time before the train came to this curve," Schumer said.
"Does that point to human error or brake failure? It’s premature to say but these brakes were not long term not working.”
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who joined Weener and Schumer at the press conference, said he was stunned by the train's speed.
"When I heard about the 82 mph, my breath was taken," he said. "It's beyond frightening, it's harrowing."
Kisook Ahn, 35, one of the four people killed, was on her way back to Woodside from Ossining, NY where she worked as a registered nurse.
About 60 people were injured in the crash, but only about a dozen remained hospitalized in Columbia-Presbyterian and St. Barnabas hospitals late Monday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised to work with federal investigators to understand the cause of the crash and to punish those at found at fault.
"When the investigation concludes, we will make sure that any responsible parties are held accountable," he said. "My thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families of the victims of yesterday's crash."