In the News

Crash Victim Gets Back on the Train

Friday, September 6, 2013

By Daniel Tepfer

Cynthia Clarke, of Bridgeport, who was injured in the train crash in May, waits for her train Wednesday morning Sept. 4, 2013 on her first day back to work following the crash. Clarke is a Postal Letter Carrier in Norwalk. Photo: Autumn Driscoll

That first step onto a Metro-North train car was the hardest for Cynthia Clarke.

The 52-year-old letter carrier hadn’t been on a train since May 17, when she was involved in one of the worst rail crashes in Connecticut history.

“I’m pretty nervous but I’m trying not to let it bother me,” Clarke said Wednesday morning before boarding the train to the Post Office in South Norwalk, where she works. “I’m trying to convince myself that I’m going to get on the train and go to work like it’s a normal day only I know it isn’t.”

Metro-North Railroad is still trying to recover from the crash as well, and there are still unanswered questions regarding the cause of the two-train collision on the Fairfield-Bridgeport border that injured more than 70 people.

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board cited an inspection of the piece of track done by Metro-North two days before the crash that found that crushed stone and other material underlying an insulated rail joint moved out of alignment when it was traveled over. The NTSB report did not offer information on whether Metro-North took necessary actions to address the condition between the May 15 inspection and the accident two days later.

A final NTSB report is not expected for several months and the NTSB has called Metro-North officials to testify at hearing in October in Washington, D.C., on the crash.

“Every shred of information on the crash will come from the NTSB,” said Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders.

Earlier this week, J. Craig Smith, an attorney with the law firm Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder, notified Metro-North that he will be bringing a lawsuit against them on behalf of Clarke and five other people injured in the crash.

“There is no doubt that Metro-North was at fault for this crash,” said Smith. “The question for me is – who shares that responsibility? We are going to allow the process to work and find out who is responsible and will hopefully do the right thing for my clients.”

His clients’ injuries run the gamut from Clarke’s broken shoulder to a man with a fractured spine.

“These are people whose only connection is that they were sitting on a train and they have now been brought together by this tragedy,” Smith said.

Anders said she was aware of Smith’s lawsuit notice and the suits brought by three other passengers, but declined to comment on them.

Clarke said she had been commuting to work by train for the last 10 years.

“It became a routine, something I didn’t even think about,” she said.

But now she can’t get that day out of her mind.

“Before the crash I had never been someone who wakes up in the middle of the night, but afterwards I had trouble sleeping,” she said.

Clarke recalled that she was sitting in the third car from the rear, playing a word game on her cellphone, when her train derailed, then was hit by an eastbound train.

“I heard this loud boom, like an explosion, and the train came to a sudden stop,” she said. “People were thrown from their seats and stuff fell from the overhead bins.”

Clarke ended up on the floor with a sharp pain in her right shoulder.

“All this dust started coming into the car that looked like smoke and I just wanted to get out of there.”

She said the door in her car wouldn’t open so she made her way to the next car where other passengers had managed to force the door open. Once outside, she said she was met with a grisly tableau.

“There were people on the ground with gashes and there was this one girl that I could see that both her legs were broken,” she said. “That’s something you don’t forget.”

Home safely Wednesday night, Clarke admitted feeling anxious as she rode the train for the first time in nearly four months.

“I especially felt anxious when I saw another train passing the train I was in,” she said. “But hopefully it will get better each day.”