GERMANTOWN–Town resident William Rockefeller, 46, the engineer of the Metro-North passenger train that derailed Sunday, December 1 in the Bronx, has become the main focus of the investigation into the cause of the fatal incident. Four people died in the accident and more than 60 were injured.
Mr. Rockefeller has worked for Metro-North for 15 years and has been an engineer for the last 10 years, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the accident. He had reported to work at 5:04 a.m. Sunday morning and the train left the Poughkeepsie station on time at 5:54 a.m. headed to Grand Central Station in Manhattan. It derailed at around 7:20 a.m. near the Spuyten Duyvil stop along the Harlem River near the Hudson. The NTSB said the train was traveling at 82 mph around a sharp turn where the speed limit was 30 mph.
Earl F. Weener a member of the NTSB, said at a press briefing Tuesday that Mr. Rockefeller started working the morning shift as of November 17. He works five days a week on shifts that typically last nine hours. Mr. Weener said Mr. Rockefeller would have had time between shifts to get “restorative sleep.”
Officials said Mr. Rockefeller has been cooperating with investigators. The New York Times and other media reported that Mr. Rockefeller was said by his lawyer to be “extremely remorseful” about his part in the accident. New York and national media have reported subsequently that a union representative who has spoken to Mr. Rockefeller said that the engineer had “zoned out” and recovered too late to slow the train. The engine was pushing the seven-car train.
The NTSB said breath tests for alcohol use came back negative for all members of the train crew, including Mr. Rockefeller. Tests for drug use have not yet been completed and records showing whether the engineer’s cell phone was being used at around the time of the accident are under investigation.
Independent newsman Lance Wheeler said Tuesday that reporters and news crews from New York and national media organizations had converged on Mr. Rockefeller’s Germantown property hoping to interview him after he was released from the hospital. Mr. Wheeler said reporters and crews were told by State Police not to trespass on the Rockefeller property.
Germantown town Supervisor Roy Brown said Tuesday that he did not know Mr. Rockefeller other than to say hello to him at local stores, but that his son is a neighbor of Mr. Rockefeller and has learned that “Bill is devastated” by the accident.
Citing what he said were public condemnations of Mr. Rockefeller, Mr. Brown said, “I feel sorry for him.”
The official investigation into the cause of the accident is ongoing.
Mr. Weener of the NTSB said there was no indication of an equipment malfunction or track problem. He said the engine was equipped with a “Dead Man Pedal,” which must be pressed down by the engineer at all times. If the pedal is released, as it might be in a health emergency, he said, the train automatically applies the brakes.