FOUR people were killed on Sunday after a train derailed at high speed on the way into Grand Central station in New York
Three died after being thrown from the train, which left the tracks at a known blackspot, while a fourth was killed inside a carriage.
Two men and two women died in the crash in which 63 people were also injured. A Fire Department spokesman said 11 people had been sent to the hospital in what were described at the time as critical condition, and six in serious condition with non-life threatening injuries.
The train left the rails on a sharp bend close to Spuyten Duyvil station in The Bronx, beside the Harlem River. One of the carriages ended up just inches from the water.
“It's a very tragic situation,” Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters at the scene. “The first order of business is to care for the people who were on the train”.
Dozens of people, including the train's driver and three crew members, were taken to four nearby hospitals. Several were rushed into surgery to treat badly broken bones and serious wounds.
Authorities later identified the victims as Donna L. Smith, 54; James G. Lovell, 58; James M. Ferrari, 59; and Ahn Kisook, 35. Autopsies were scheduled for Monday, said the New York City medical examiner's office.
Lovell, an audio technician, was traveling to midtown Manhattan to work on the famed Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, said longtime friend Janet Barton.
After visiting an area hospital Sunday evening, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters that the 11 who originally were critical no longer appeared to have life-threatening injuries.
Some had been trapped under overturned carriages, after being thrown from their seats. Rescue workers lifted wreckage off them with inflatable airbags, while others were cut free by firefighters.
Officials from The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates transport accidents, opened an inquiry and were interviewing the driver about how fast he was going.
Oliver Koppell, the area's city councilman, said: “It would appear the train was clearly going too fast on the curve”. There were unconfirmed reports the driver said his brakes had failed.
The train, a 5.54am service from Poughkeepsie in upstate New York, crashed about 20 minutes before it was due to arrive at Manhattan's Grand Central terminal at 7.43am.
The carriages were being pushed by a locomotive. The driver was said to be a trusted 15-year veteran of the Metro-North Railroad and to have been left “very, very traumatised”.
Officials said the death toll could have been far higher if the crash had taken place on a weekday, when the route is packed with commuters heading to work from the New York suburbs.
Earl Weener, a National Transportation Safety Board official, said the a so-called black box or “event recorder” had been recovered and that data had been downloaded from the locomotive but not yet analysed.
The black box “will say how fast the train was travelling and whether or not the brakes were applied,” Governor Cuomo said earlier
A crane was on its way to the scene to right the derailed train cars. in a bid to ensure there were no further fatalities and to stop fuel from leaking from the locomotive.
Survivors agreed that the train seemed to be travelling too fast as it took the curve. Frank Tatulli, who said he took the service into work in Manhattan every Sunday morning, said that the train was going “a lot faster” than usual. “The guy was going on one of the turns fast, I have no idea why,” he told ABC. “It left them because it went too fast.”
Dianna Jackson, whose face was covered in blood, told The New York Daily News: “The driver was going around the curve really fast. Next thing you know, we're in middle of a wreckage.”
There was confusion at the scene as officials admitted they did not know how many passengers had been onboard. Police divers were searching the river while officers with cadaver dogs were scouring land around the tracks in search of other bodies that might have been ejected.
The crash disrupted travel plans of New Yorkers returning to the city after the Thanksgiving holiday long weekend, and looked certain to cause days of cancellations and delays.
The accident came seven months after two commuter trains on the Metro-North system collided in Connecticut following a derailment during an evening rush hour, injuring more than 70 people.
A 10-carriage train carrying rubbish on the Metro-North line also came off the rails in the same area of The Bronx in July. Three train operators on board escaped without injury.