Feds: Engineer’s sleepiness caused deadly Metro-North derailment

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NEW YORK (AP) — Federal regulators say the engineer of a commuter train that derailed in New York City last year, killing four people, fell asleep, causing him to miss a 30 mph speed limit and hit a curve at 82 mph.

The National Transportation Board on Tuesday announced the probable cause of the Dec. 1 crash. It says engineer William Rockefeller fell asleep due to the combination of a sleep disorder and a drastic shift in his work schedule.

It says the Metro-North railroad also lacked policy to screen for sleep disorders. It says that contributed to the accident.

The board issued conclusions on five recent Metro-North crashes.

It blames a May 17, 2013, derailment and collision in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on broken joint bars, which are used to join rails of different sizes. At least 65 people were injured.

The board has issued hundreds of pages of findings from its investigations, but until now has emphasized that no cause had been established.

It reported in April, for example, that the engineer of the derailed train suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnea, which interrupted his sleep dozens of times each night. Investigators said Rockefeller told them he felt strangely "dazed" right before the crash.

The train came off the tracks as it hit a curve along the Hudson River that carries a 30 mph speed limit. The NTSB said the train was going 82 mph.

More than 70 people were injured.

When investigators asked Rockefeller if he was clearheaded enough to realize he was hitting a curve, he said, "apparently not."

The board also issued conclusions on these four others recent Metro-North incidents:

—A derailment and collision in Bridgeport, Connecticut, that injured more than 50 people on May 17, 2013.

—The death of a track foreman who was hit by a train in West Haven, Connecticut, on May 28, 2013.

—The derailment of a freight train on Metro-North tracks in the Bronx on July 18, 2013. There were no injuries.

—The death of a Metro-North electrician who was hit by a train in Manhattan on March 10, 2014.

In March, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a stinging report on Metro-North, saying the railroad let safety concerns slip while pushing to keep trains on time. Railroad executives pledged to make safety their top priority.

Metro-North is the second-largest commuter rail line in the country. It carried more than 83.4 million riders between New York City and its suburbs last year.