The crash happened at 7:20 am (1220 GMT) about 100 yards (metres) North of Metro North's Spuyten Duyvil station in the city's Bronx borough, said Metro North spokesman Aaron Donovan.

A Fire Department spokesman confirmed the number of dead and said 11 people were in critical condition, six were in serious condition with non-life threatening injuries and another 46 suffered minor injuries.

The train, headed South toward Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal, was about half full at the time of the crash with about 150 passengers, said the state's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), parent company of Metro North.

"On a workday, fully occupied, it would have been a tremendous disaster," New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Joseph Cassano told reporters at the scene.

At least one rail car was lying toppled near the water in an area where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet. Other cars were lying on their sides.

There was no official word yet on possible causes of the accident.

Passenger Frank Tatulli said that he had been riding in the first car and that the train had been traveling "a lot faster" than usual.

"The guy was going real fast on the turns and I just didn't know why because we were making good time. And all of a sudden we derailed on the turn," he said.

Joseph Bruno, who heads the city's Office of Emergency Management, said it appeared that three of the four people killed had been ejected from the train. The MTA and the Fire Department said that could not immediately be confirmed.

Michael Keaveney, 22, a security worker whose home overlooks the site, said he had heard a loud bang when the train derailed.

"It woke me up from my sleep," he said. "It looked like (the train) took out a lot of trees on its way over toward the water."

Series of accidents

New York Police Department divers were seen in the water near the accident and dozens of firefighters were helping pull people from the wreckage. None of the passengers were in the water, according to Marjorie Anders of Metro-North.

The derailment was the latest in a string of problems this year for Metro North, the second busiest US commuter railroad in terms of monthly ridership. The MTA said details about how the accident would impact the morning commute on Monday were not yet available.

In July, 10 cars of a CSX freight train carrying trash derailed in the same area, Anders said. Partial service was restored four days later, but full service did not return for more than a week.

In May, a Metro-North passenger train struck a commuter train between Fairfield and Bridgeport, Connecticut, injuring more than 70 people and halting service on the line.

The MTA said Sunday's accident marked the first customer fatality in Metro North's three-decade history and that it was a "black day" for the railroad.

After touring the scene, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said officials from the National Transportation Safety Board were sent to the scene and would investigate thoroughly.

"We think everybody is accounted for, we've gone over the site a number of times," Cuomo said.

Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, said its Empire Line service between New York City and Albany was being restored after being halted immediately after the crash. Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service between Boston and Washington was not affected.

Those injured were being transported to area hospitals, said New York City Fire Department spokesman Michael Parrella. A center for passengers' family members has been set up at JFK High School in the Bronx.

President Barack Obama was briefed on the accident and a White House official said the president's thoughts and prayers were with the friends and families of those involved.

The train was a diesel with seven cars. The locomotive was on the north end pushing the cars Southward. The train was not scheduled to stop at the Spuyten Duyvil station.


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