NEW YORK — At least four people were killed after a Metro-North Railroad train derailed Sunday morning in the Bronx, officials said, in what is believed to be the deadliest train crash in New York City in more than two decades.
Sixty-three people were injured, including 11 critically, said Jim Long, a New York Fire Department spokesman.
The derailment occurred when several cars of a train headed south from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., left the tracks about 7:20 a.m. just north of the Spuyten Duyvil station near where tracks pass under the Henry Hudson Bridge, according to a Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman, Aaron Donovan.
At a news conference, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said the operator of the train was among the people injured and was being treated.
By 3 p.m., relatives of three of the four people killed — two men and two women — had been notified by the authorities, according to a law enforcement official, who requested anonymity.
A senior city official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the train operator had told emergency medical workers that the brakes had failed, but that the operator’s account had not been confirmed.
Three of the people who died had been thrown from the train during the derailment, said Fire Chief Edward S. Kilduff.
Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano said there were about 100 people on the train, and that the crash could have been much worse if there had been more passengers. “On a work day, fully occupied, it would have been a tremendous disaster,” he said.
The transportation authority said the train was being pushed by a locomotive at the rear, propelling the cars southward, when the head cars derailed. The train operator has been with Metro-North for about 20 years, an agency spokeswoman said, and the train had three conductors in its crew.
The transportation authority said the train’s data recorder could yield additional information about the crash.
The senior city official said it appeared that the front cars had flipped after coming off the rails, and that on at least one of the cars, all of the windows on one side of the carriage were gone.
Any curve in the tracks would have speed restrictions, officials said. They said investigators would examine the track, the equipment, the signal system, and the operator.
Joel Zaritsky had just fallen asleep in the fourth car of the train when the train started to roll over and landed on its side, he said. “People were screaming,” he said Sunday morning as he traveled to the hospital. “I found myself thrown to the other side of the train.”
Zaritsky, who lives in Poughkeepsie and was heading to New York for a convention, said his hand was cut and he was bruised. “I still can’t believe it,” he said. “I’m very happy to be alive.”
The National Transportation Safety Board said a team had arrived in New York to investigate the derailment.
Rescue workers from the police and fire departments converged in large numbers and lowered stretchers into the train cars, which were lying on their sides; one car was just above the water’s edge. Firefighters could be seen cutting their way into the damaged cars with electric saws. Helicopters hovered above and diving teams checked for bodies underwater.
Many local residents at the scene described being awakened by a prolonged crashing sound. Some said it was a quick series of booms, and then they saw several train cars on their sides away from the tracks.
Firefighters arrived and climbed onto the toppled cars with ladders, opened the passenger doors, and lowered ladders into the car and “started pulling people out,” said Kevin Farrell, 28, a hospital administrator who lives in a co-op building overlooking the crash site. He said he watched passengers being helped out with arms in splints or other minor injuries, and several of them were taken by stretchers.
Responders rushed the passengers to ambulances through a section of a chain-link fence that they had removed.
Councilman G. Oliver Koppell, who represents the area and was at the scene, said the accident was “certainly the worst one on this line,” and added that it occurred on a curve that is usually taken at low speed.
All service between the Croton-Harmon station and Grand Central Terminal was suspended, Donovan said.
It had been a difficult year for Metro-North, which has had a reputation as one of the country’s most reliable railroads.
In September, a power failure in Mount Vernon, N.Y., upended service on the New Haven line, leading the authority to take the rare step of offering credits to affected riders. On May 17, two trains on the New Haven line collided during the Friday evening rush after one derailed near Fairfield, Conn. At least 70 people were injured.
Less than two weeks later, a track foreman was struck and killed in West Haven, Conn. Investigators said a trainee rail traffic controller had opened a section of track without proper clearance.
The railroad was brought under the auspices of the transportation authority in 1983, and has endured a spate of departures that have left several positions vacant or filled by less-experienced employees. Retirements of high-level employees have been common because retirees can receive maximum pension payments after 30 years of service.
Sunday’s derailment was believed to be the deadliest train accident in New York City since 1991, when five people were killed and more than 150 were injured after a subway train derailed in Lower Manhattan.
In 1882, a deadly collision between two passenger trains occurred on the tracks outside Spuyten Duyvil. Train cars burst into flames and as many as nine people died, according to reports at the time.
State Senator Charles J. Fuschillo Jr., a Republican from Long Island and the chairman of the Transportation Committee, called on federal officials to conduct a comprehensive review of track conditions in the metropolitan area, citing numerous derailments in the region over the past two years.