Track inspection found problems before Connecticut crash

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News,Transportation,Connecticut

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) -- A track inspection found problems two days before a train derailed in the state and injured more than 70 people, the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday.

The May 15 inspection found a rail joint with inadequate supporting ballast and indications of vertical movement of the track near the point of derailment, the NTSB said. The agency, which has been investigating the crash, said rail sections were shipped to a lab for further examination.

The ballast is loose stone, and the Metro-North Railroad constantly makes sure it's packed tightly so the track doesn't go up and down slightly when a train passes, railroad spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said. The inspection noted the issue, but it wasn't deemed an immediate problem, and the stone wasn't added and packed down before the derailment, she said.

"If they think it has reached a critical point they will not hesitate to order slow speed and immediate repair," Anders said.

The chairman of a commuter advocacy group said he was concerned Metro-North didn't think the issue was serious enough to halt service or issue a slow order for trains.

"Passengers on Metro-North should be able to expect a safe ride at all times," Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council, said in a statement. "That the railroad's own inspection found a problem but nothing was done is not reassuring. I would hope that when the NTSB completes its investigation, Metro-North and other railroads re-examine their policies and procedures when problems like this are found in the future and that they always err on the side of safety."

The NTSB had previously said a joint bar, used to hold two sections of rail together, had been cracked and repaired. The railroad said it was replaced.

That joint bar is the one where the inspector noted the lack of stone, Anders said. Metro-North is conducting an inspection and inventory of all joint bars on its main tracks, the NTSB said.

The eastbound train from New York City was traveling at about 70 mph when it derailed during evening rush hour in Bridgeport on May 17. After it stopped, it was struck about 20 seconds later by a westbound train, which had slowed from 70 mph to 23 mph, NTSB said.

The crash injured 73 passengers, two engineers and a conductor. Damage was estimated by Metro-North at $18 million, the NTSB said.

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