Union leader: Engineer William Rockefeller caught himself nodding at controls before Metro-North derailment

The NTSB says the train was going 82 mph in a 30 mph zone when it jumped the tracks Sunday. (12/3/13)

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THE BRONX - A union official says engineer William Rockefeller caught himself nodding at the controls prior to Sunday’s fatal Metro-North derailment in the Bronx.

Union leader Anthony Bottalico says that Rockefeller "caught himself, but he caught himself too late." Bottalico says Rockefeller told him he "nodded," akin to a momentary lapse while driving a car. Earlier today, the National Transportation Safety Board declined to comment on reports the engineer had zoned out moments ahead of the crash.

The Metro-North Railroad commuter train was traveling Sunday at 82 mph as it approached a 30 mph zone and jumped the tracks along a sharp curve. Four passengers died.

MORE: Photos from Scene | Map | Social Media Updates

While investigators had yet to finish talking with Rockefeller, questions swirled around him because the train went into the curve at nearly three times the speed limit. Dozens of people were injured.

As NTSB worked to determine what caused the Sunday morning wreck in the Bronx, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Rockefeller should be disciplined for "unjustifiable" speed.

Rockefeller has worked for the railroad for about 20 years and has been an engineer for 11. The rail employees union says he was injured in the wreck and has cooperated with investigators. It says the NTSB investigation will show "there was no criminal intent with the operation of his train." Investigators began talking to the engineer Monday but didn't complete the interview.

Rockefeller's work routine had recently changed. He had begun running that route on Nov. 17, two weeks before the wreck, said Marjorie Anders, a spokeswoman for Metro-North's parent, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Union leader Anthony Bottalico said Rockefeller had changed work schedules - switching from afternoons to the day shift, which typically begins at 5 a.m. - but was familiar with the route and qualified to run it.

The NTSB says investigators haven't found any evidence of brake trouble during the train's nine previous stops and no problems with track signals. Weener said Tuesday there were "no anomalies."

AP wires contributed to this report.

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