bronx train derailment
© Craig Ruttle/APFirst responders gather around the derailment of a Metro North passenger train in the Bronx
At least four people were killed on Sunday and 63 injured, 11 of them critically, when a passenger train heading into New York City derailed in the Bronx.

Two carriages were flipped onto their sides in the early morning incident, which occurred at 7.20am about 100 yards north of Spuyten Duyvil station on the Hudson line of the Metro-North Railroad.

The New York Fire Department, which coordinated a rescue effort involving hundreds of firefighters, police and railway workers, said 63 people were hurt when the seven-carriage, southbound 5.54am service from Poughkeepsie to Manhattan's Grand Central Station left the rails on a sharp bend.

Three of the dead were killed as they were thrown from the train, according to FDNY chief of department Edward Kilduff. Numerous passengers were taken away on stretchers to local hospitals, officials said at a press conference three hours after the derailment.

Kilduff said he believed all the passengers and train crew were accounted for after a rescue operation that included divers searching for survivors in the adjacent Harlem River, and that he thought the casualty count was unlikely to rise further.

"Three of the four fatalities were thrown as the train came off the track and was twisting and turning somewhat," he said. "The train is pretty beat up. There was substantial damage inside and a lot of personal possessions thrown around.

"We believe we've searched the entire area and we don't have any other victims we're aware of." Kilduff added that he did not yet know exactly how many people had been aboard the train.

Eyewitnesses said they saw dozens of scratched and bloodied passengers leaving the wreckage, several holding ice packs to their heads. Frank Tatulli, a passenger in the front carriage, which came to rest just inches from the edge of the Harlem River, told a local TV station that he felt the train was travelling "a lot faster" than it usually would coming into the station.

An anonymous law enforcement official told journalists the train's driver had said he tried to apply the brakes before the bend but that they did not work.

State officials indicated that they had ruled out criminal activity or terrorism as a cause and that the incident appeared to be an accident. Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, visited the scene and told reporters that investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board would arrive later on Sunday.

"Four people lost their lives today, in the holiday season just after Thanksgiving, and they're in our thoughts and prayers," he said. "This is obviously a very tragic situation. The first order of business is to care for the people who were on the train. We are trying to save lives. New York is blessed with the best first responders I think anywhere in the country.

"In terms of causes, we don't know exactly what happened, The NTSB is on its way they'll do a thorough investigation and we'll wait to see what the NTSB say before speculating as to any causes."

Cuomo added that the train driver was injured and was being cared for at a local hospital.

firefighters at Bronx derailment
© Andrew Gombert/EPAFirefighters and rescue personnel on the scene
Another passenger, Joel Zaritsky, told Associated Press that he was travelling into the city for a dental conference.

"I was asleep and I woke up when the car started rolling several times," he said. "Then I saw the gravel coming at me, and I heard people screaming. There was smoke everywhere and debris. People were thrown to the other side of the train."

Thomas Prendergast, chairman of the Manhattan Transportation Authority, said the speed of the train would be "one of the factors" investigators would look at, but that his first priorities were the injured passengers, then seeing if any service on the blocked line could be restored by the start of the working week tomorrow. Services were immediately suspended between Croton-Harmon and Grand Central. Amtrak services between New York City and Albany were also cancelled.

The stretch of line where Sunday's incident took place saw another derailment earlier this year, when a northbound freight train came off the track in July.