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New York City subway train derails; 4 hospitalized

Published: Friday, May 2, 2014 11:53 p.m.CDT

NEW YORK – A subway train carrying 1,000 passengers shook through a tunnel, tilted and derailed on Friday, injuring more than a dozen people and frightening scores of others with sparks, smoke and sudden darkness.

Four people suffered serious injuries and were hospitalized, firefighters said. Some complained of chest pains. Fifteen others were treated at the scene.

The express F train was heading for Manhattan and Brooklyn when six of its eight cars derailed at 10:40 a.m. about 1,200 feet south of the 65th Street station in the Woodside section of Queens.

Passenger Rashmi Basdeo said the train suddenly “started to tilt and shake.”

“It was scary,” said the sales associate from Queens, who was taking the train to work in Manhattan. She said she held onto a post as the train came “screeching to a stop.”

“We knew it was derailed from the sounds and the position of the car,” she said.

Dozens of firefighters, police officers and paramedics converged. They used ladders to help passengers descend from the train to track level and guided them along the track to a sidewalk opening. The derailment happened about 30 feet below street level. Power was cut to the third rail to aid the rescue.

Deputy Assistant Fire Chief James Leonard said the middle six cars of the eight-car train derailed but remained upright.

The cause of the accident, which damaged the express tracks, was unclear.

There was no switch in the area, and the tracks were no more than 20 to 30 years old, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Tom Prendergast said. The train’s operator and conductor will be tested for drugs and alcohol, he said.

Passenger Tayyib Siddiqi said the accident started “with a little bit of turbulence.”

“I saw sparks coming out of the right side of the train,” Siddiqi said. “And then the train tilted a little bit. There was lot of noise, banging and then it felt like we hit the side wall.”

He said a couple of seconds later the train came to a stop.

“The train filled with smoke from the sparks, the brakes or whatnot. It was terrifying. It was a horrifying experience,” said Siddiqi, adding that there was a lot of crying and frayed nerves afterward.

The train went dark after it happened.

Daniel Gritzer, of Queens, said the train was moving relatively fast in a stretch between express stops when he heard what he thought was the emergency brake. The MTA said the maximum speeds in that area are 35 to 40 mph.

Instead of slowing down, Gritzer said, the train started to bounce.

“People were looking at each other as this was happening, and it was clear something was wrong,” Gritzer said. “And the question was just how wrong was this going to be.”

Gritzer said he saw what appeared to be smoke and, with the doors locked at either end of his tilted car, he became wary of being trapped.

Leonard said the derailment caused “a substantial cloud of dust, which panicked people,” but little smoke. The evacuation took about an hour and went smoothly, police and fire officials said.

Derailments are relatively rare in the city’s subway system, one of the largest public transportation systems in the world, with 8,000 trips and 5.4 million riders each weekday.

The last subway derailment was in May 2013, near 125th Street in Manhattan, Prendergast said. None of the 424 passengers was hurt.

The last major derailment was in August 1991, at Union Square. Five people were killed, and more than 200 were injured. The motorman, who was drunk, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Transit officials said after Friday’s derailment E, F, M and R trains were running with delays and service changes. Customers could use the J as an alternative. The Long Island Rail Road was cross-honoring tickets at Penn Station, Woodside, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens and Jamaica.

Officials said they would run local service, but no express service, through the area for the evening rush. They said all E, F, M and R service would be suspended in the area from 10 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday for the removal of the derailed train.

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