NEW YORK – US officials opened an investigation into a rush-hour collision between two commuter trains that injured more than 70 passengers and severed a key rail link.
Train service in the busy Northeast corridor from New York City to New Haven, Connecticut used by tens of thousands of commuters was suspended indefinitely and will likely be snarled for days as officials seek to determines the causes of the crash.
Investigators from the National Transportation and Safety Board were focusing on a section of the rail on the eastbound track going toward New Haven that was fractured at a rail joint.
“This fracture is of interest to our investigators because (of) some of the witness marks on the fracture surface of the rail,” NTSB board member Earl Weener told reporters, stressing that it was unclear whether the fracture occurred before or after the accident.
Workers were inspecting cars involved in the derailment, have obtained inspection documents and were seeking maintenance records.
The trains belonged to Metro-North, one of America’s busiest commuter rail lines, carrying around 280,000 passengers a day.
It said two of the two tracks in the affected area suffered “extensive infrastructure damage” due to the collision, with both the track and overhead wire damaged.
The train cars were set to be removed by crane once the investigation is complete.
Investigators, meanwhile, secured the site of the crash in Fairfield, Connecticut, bringing traffic to a halt until at least sometime Monday.
Officials were unable to say how long it would take to clear and repair the tracks.
“Normal service through this area is not expected to resume until a full investigation is complete, the infrastructure is fully assessed and repairs are made,” Metro-North said of a section between South Norwalk and New Haven.
The cause of the accident was not immediately known, but Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy told reporters late Friday that there was “no reason to believe that this was anything but accidental.”
“We’ll be looking at the braking performance of the train, the condition of wheels, the condition of the car, we’ll be looking at the general condition of the tracks and the railbed,” said Weener.
He said investigators will also look at whether signal were operating properly and “how the crew behaved.”
“Now that we’ve seen the extent of the damage both to cars and to the track system and to the catenary system, (the question) is when will service be restored through this area, and right now we really cannot give you good information on that,” Malloy told reporters.
Eight people remained hospitalized, three of them in critical condition, Malloy said on his Twitter account.
The commuter trains were traveling in opposite directions when they slammed into one another shortly after 6:00 pm Friday (2200 GMT), at the height of evening rush hour.
Alex Cohen, a passenger on the train headed to New York, said it pulled to a sudden halt and then suddenly jerked forward.
“There was smoke. People were screaming, people were really nervous. We were pretty shaken up. They had to smash a window to get us out,” Cohen told a local NBC affiliate.
Local hospitals said they had treated a total of 72 people hurt in the crash, with all but nine released as of late Saturday.
St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport treated mostly back injuries. Spokesman John Cappiello of Bridgeport Hospital told AFP that doctors there had treated lacerations, some serious, and fractures. One of its patients was in critical condition.