Nation

NTSB Bars Train Union From Crash Inquiry, Citing Confidentiality

NPR | Dec. 4, 2013 10:40 a.m.

Contributed By:

Bill Chappell

A train passes by the scene of repair efforts at the site of a train derailment in the Bronx borough of New York Tuesday. The National Transportation Safety Board says that an inquiry into the crash will proceed without the rail employees union.

A train passes by the scene of repair efforts at the site of a train derailment in the Bronx borough of New York Tuesday. The National Transportation Safety Board says that an inquiry into the crash will proceed without the rail employees union.

Seth Wenig, AP

The investigation into the Bronx train crash that killed four people Sunday will continue without the direct involvement of the rail employees union, the Association of Commuter Rail Employees. The move came after the union’s leader said at a Tuesday news conference that the train’s engineer, William Rockefeller, had gone to sleep at the controls before a catastrophic derailment.

The union group was one of several organizations invited to participate in the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, on the condition that their representatives not reveal information, the federal agency said in a statement released late Tuesday.

As Mark reported yesterday, ACRE leader Anthony Bottalico told the media that Rockefeller “basically nodded” at the controls.

“He had the equivalent of what we all have when we drive a car,” he said. “That is, you sometimes have a momentary nod or whatever that might be. How long that lasts, I can’t answer that. Only Billy can.”

“He caught himself, but he caught himself too late,” Bottalico said. “He put the train in emergency, but that was six seconds prior to derailment.”

The crash happened after the the Metro-North Railroad passenger train approached a curve at 82 mph, far above the 30 mph speed limit for the area, investigators say.

“Rockefeller had begun running that route on Nov. 17, two weeks before the wreck,” the AP reports. “Bottalico said Rockefeller was familiar with the route and qualified to run it.”

A veteran train engineer, Rockefeller is said to be cooperating with the NTSB. But an interview about the crash had to be suspended Monday due to his distraught emotional state, CNN reports.

In other updates on the investigation, NTSB officials said that the train had a “dead-man’s pedal,” which would slow the train if an operator lost consciousness, but they could not provide more details, as the equipment is still being examined.

And the NTSB’s Earl Weener also said that an analysis of cellphone records for the train’s engineer, William Rockefeller, had not yet been performed, although “we are getting the forensic data from the cellphone.”

As for reports that Rockefeller was asleep, Weener said, “It’s premature to be able to say.”

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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