BRIDGEPORT – A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board about the train derailment on Metro North’s New Haven line last month says an inspection two days before the incident found problems with the track.
The inspection found “an insulated rail joint with inadequate supporting ballast and indications of vertical movement of the track system under load” in a section of the track where the train derailed, the report says.
The track on the New Haven line is inspected visually two times a week by geographically assigned track inspectors, said Marjorie Anders, spokesperson for Metro North. Because they regularly inspect the same area, the inspectors become very familiar with the tracks, she said.
The track inspector made a note regarding the ballast, which is a constant and ongoing maintenance requirement, Anders said. Many factors affect the track support, including freezing and thawing of the ground, heavy rains or heavy train traffic.
“We are constantly vigilant about that,” said Anders.
The inspector in this case noted that area of track as something not requiring immediate attention, Anders said. In the many maintenance issues that can occur on the tracks, some require halting the trains for an immediate fix and some need to be watched, she said.
The derailment occurred May 17 near the Fairfield-Bridgeport line. An eastbound Metro North commuter train was traveling at the 70 mph speed limit when it derailed, the report states.
The train had come to rest and was “fouling” an adjacent track when it was struck by a westbound Metro North train, the report says.
An engineer on the westbound train applied the emergency brakes before the impact, slowing the train from 70 mph to 23 mph, the report states.
Each train was carrying about 250 passengers. The collision sent 73 passengers, two engineers and a conductor to local hospitals with injuries, the report states.
Metro North estimates damage at $18 million. Sections of the rail where the derailment occurred have been shipped to the NTSB materials lab in Washington D.C. for examination, the report states.
According to the NTSB, the same area of track had a cracked joint bar, used to join two sections of rail, repaired in April.
Joel Faxon, an attorney representing one of the injured passengers in a federal lawsuit, says the NTSB report strongly suggest that Metro North failed to properly repair a known defect in the track.
“The railroad promises riders that safety is its first priority. MTA broke that promise to its riders on May 17,” he said.
His client, 65-year-old Elizabeth Sorensen, was a passenger on the train returning to Connecticut from Grand Central Terminal. She was one of three who remained in the hospital for days after the accident.
The federal lawsuit states that the railroad company’s negligence caused the crash.
The lawsuit states that Sorensen sustained severe fractures to her legs, arm, and pelvis, and has already undergone multiple surgeries. She also sustained brain trauma when she was thrown around the interior of the train when it derailed.