Eye witnesses claim a train that derailed in New York yesterday, killing four people, was travelling faster than normal.
The commuter train derailed, injuring more than 60 in a crash that threw some passengers from toppling cars.
Yesterday’s accident raised questions about whether excessive speed, mechanical problems or human error could have played a role.
There were roughly 150 passengers on the early morning Metro-North train from the town of Poughkeepsie to Manhattan.
Some were jolted from sleep around 7.20am to screams and the frightening sensation of their compartment rolling over on a bend in the New York City borough of the Bronx where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet.
When the motion stopped, all seven carriages and the locomotive had lurched off the rails, and the lead carriage was only inches from the water.
It was the latest accident in a troubled year for the second-biggest US commuter railroad, which had never experienced a passenger death in an accident in its 31-year history.
Joel Zaritsky was dozing as he travelled to a dental convention aboard the train. He woke up to feel his carriage overturning several times.
“Then I saw the gravel coming at me, and I heard people screaming,” he said, holding his bloody right hand.
“There was smoke everywhere and debris. People were thrown to the other side of the train.”
In their efforts to find passengers, rescuers shattered windows, searched nearby woods and waters and used pneumatic jacks and air bags to peer under wreckage.
Officials planned to bring in cranes to right the overturned carriages on the slight chance anyone might still be underneath, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said.
The agency was just beginning its probe into what caused the derailment, and Mr Weener said investigators had not yet spoken to the train conductor, who was among the injured.
Investigators were due to examine factors ranging from the track condition to the crew’s performance.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the track did not appear to be faulty, leaving speed as a possible culprit for the crash.
The speed limit on the curve is 30mph , compared with 70mph in the area approaching it, Mr Weener said.
They did not yet know how fast the train was travelling but had found a data recorder, he said.
Passenger Frank Tatulli told WABC-TV that the train appeared to be going “a lot faster” than usual as it approached the sharp curve near the Spuyten Duyvil station.
Nearby residents awoke to a building-shaking boom. Angel Gonzalez was in bed in his high-rise flat overlooking the rail curve when he heard the roar.
“I thought it was a plane that crashed,” he said.
The authorities identified the victims yesterday as Donna Smith, 54, James Lovell, 58, James Ferrari, 59 and Ahn Kisook, 35.
Three of the dead were found outside the train, and one was found inside. Post-mortems were scheduled for today, said the New York City medical examiner’s office.
Mr Lovell, an audio technician, was travelling to Manhattan to work on the famed Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree, said friend Janet Barton.
Eleven of the injured were believed to be critically wounded and another six seriously hurt, according to the Fire Department.
As deadly as the derailment was, the toll could have been far greater had it happened on a weekday, or id the lead carriage has plunged into the water.
The train was about half-full at the time of the crash, rail officials said.
Yesterday’s accident came six months after an eastbound train derailed in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and was struck by a westbound train. The crash injured 73 passengers, two engineers and a conductor.
In July, a freight train derailed on the same Metro-North line near the site of yesterday’s wreckage.