NTSB: Track problems existed before Metro-North crash

Indications of problems with the tracks where a Metro-North train derailed and was struck by another train were found two days before the May 17 accident, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The crash of two trains injured 75 people, according to the NTSB.

There were about 250 people on each train at the time of the crash, according to the NTSB, which occurred about 6 p.m. Friday, May 17, at the Bridgeport-Fairfield line, where tracks cross under I-95 and over Fairfield Avenue.

During a thrice-weekly inspection on May 15, workers found a joint “with inadequate supporting ballast and indications of vertical movement of the track system,” according to the NTSB report, which the agency stressed is preliminary.

A train heading east from Grand Central Terminal to New Haven derailed when it hit that joint, shortly after leaving the Fairfield Metro station. The first car reportedly remained on the track, while subsequent cars jumped.

The cars that derailed were then struck by a westbound train that had just left the Bridgeport station. The westbound train scraped against the derailed cars and gouged into one.

The maximum speed authorized in the area of the crash is 70 miles per hour. There are four tracks there, but only two were operational due to an ongoing electrical project.

“Initial information obtained from onboard event recorders indicates that the eastbound train was traveling at about 70 mph when it derailed,” the NTSB report reads. “After the eastbound train came to rest, it was fouling the adjacent track, track 2 and was struck about 20 seconds later by the westbound train. Initial information from the event recorders indicate that the westbound train engineer applied the emergency brakes, slowing from 70 mph to 23 mph prior to striking the eastbound train.”

Metro-North estimated the damage — both trains were new M8 models — at $18 million.

Rail service was suspended until the next Wednesday, when track repairs were completed.

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