Derailed New York train driver 'lost focus'

Last updated 06:25 04/12/2013

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The driver of a New York commuter train that derailed two days ago, killing four people, told investigators he "lost focus" and went into a daze shortly before the crash, according to a law enforcement source.

The seven-car Metro-North train was traveling at 82 miles per hour (132 kph), nearly three times the 30-mph (48-kph) speed limit for the curved section of track where it crashed, investigators have said. The brakes were applied just seconds before it derailed.

The crash also critically injured 11 people and snarled travel for the roughly 26,000 people who normally ride Metro-North's Hudson line serving suburbs north of New York City.

The driver, William Rockefeller, 46, told investigators the train was operating normally when somehow he slipped into a daze, said the source, who has access to official reports on the investigation and requested anonymity.

Rockefeller told investigators he could not fully recall what happened but that at some point he suddenly came out of the temporary daze, realized the train was going too fast and into a dangerous curve, and applied the brakes. It was too late to avoid the crash.

Rockefeller has never been disciplined for his work performance, said Anthony Bottalico, the general chairman of the driver's labor union, the Association of Commuter Rail Employees.

The NTSB was scheduled to brief reporters again later today.

Law-enforcement agencies, including the Bronx district attorney, the New York Police Department and transit police are monitoring the investigation.

If criminal charges are warranted, they would be brought by Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, a spokesman for Johnson said.

Rockefeller was in the hospital and due to meet with NTSB officials, possibly as early today, according to another source briefed on the investigation.

"He's very traumatised," Bottalico said on Monday. "He's devastated by the loss of life, by the injuries to the passengers and his fellow crew members, and he's extremely upset about all of it."

The train's throttle was reduced to idle six seconds before derailing and its brakes were activated five seconds before the accident, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Earl Weener told a news conference yesterday.

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- Reuters

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