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Train Derails in the Bronx; Interview with Former Department of Transportation Managing Director; Possibility of Amazon Drones; New Video of Walker Crash

Aired December 3, 2013 - 07:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Local media now reporting firefighters have that massive eight-alarm fire in Boston under control. Just look at this video. In a matter of minutes it engulfed a five-story brick building in south Boston. Windows on the first three floors were reportedly blown out. But a local station reports fire crews were able to get the upper hand in about an hour. The building was under renovation and everyone, thankfully, inside escaped without injury.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: A key ruling expected today to decide whether Detroit can proceed with its record bankruptcy. The city faces an estimated $18 billion in debt. Officials say reducing that is the only way to fight years of blight and violent crime. This decision sets the stage for a battle over controversial reductions, including pensions and the possible sale of city assets. Detroit filed for bankruptcy and court protection in July, making it the largest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, a stunning number -- 82. That's how fast the metro north train was going when it jumped the tracks in the Bronx killing four people, injuring many others. The speed limit on that section of track was 70 miles an hour going to 30 miles an hour around the curve. So it was going 82 miles an hour when it was supposed to be going 30. The NTSB found more. The brakes were applied just seconds before the train left the rails. The throttle also disengaged late in the process, leading many to wonder if this is mechanical failure or operator error.

Mary Schiavo is former inspector general of the United States department for transportation and was involved in train derailment investigations. She joins us now. Mary, thank you very much. What's your initial take on the numbers?

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: The numbers are startling, shocking and inexcusable. The question is why were they so high? Why was the train traveling 12 miles over the speed limit even before it entered the dangerous curve? It certainly looks like operator error, but there could be other reasons why the train was going over speed.

CUOMO: All right, so let's talk about it. If I'm the operator and the train is supposed to be going 70 and it's going 82, is that completely unusual and unacceptable, or does this happen sometimes?

SCHIAVO: Well, you know, sometimes it happens intentionally. Sometimes you're pushing the envelope, trying to make up for a late schedule, et cetera. But in this case, you know, is it excusable? No. The speed limit was 70. The speed limits are there for a purpose, because that's the maximum safe speed on the track and the track speeds vary. Along a stretch of rail you might have differing speeds that the engineer has to adjust for. So there's no excuse for it being over-speed. The question is why, operator inattention, intentionally over-speed, or some problem with the train. That's what the NTSB is figuring out now, and the black box will hold the answer.

CUOMO: Except if the question becomes to discretion, I haven't heard anything, maybe you have, about whether or not the operator was communicating with anyone about the speed of the train being excessive, the brakes not working when he tried them. That's very important information. Ordinarily would an operator be communicating that kind of distress?

SCHIAVO: Yes. And the NTSB has seized the cell phone. They have the cell phone of the operator. And they have also noted that the train made several stops before the accident and the brakes were working fine. And there were no problems reported. So it's highly suspicious that all of a sudden, of course, the train would go 12 miles over the 70 mile per hour speed limit and that the brakes would be applied and throttle released just six seconds before the train finally stopped. That's almost a crash sequence. I mean, six seconds, count one-one thousand, two-one thousand, up to six. That's the sequence of the crash. Six seconds before everything stopped is when they are saying it was applied. That's way too late.

CUOMO: The cellphone records, I understand, but isn't there a radio in there? Wouldn't there be a record of more direct communication, hey, I'm going too fast, hey, the brakes aren't working?

SCHIAVO: Yes, there is. There's ample ways to communicate, not just cell phones. They seized the cellphone to see if the operator was doing something other than run the train, which has been very common in other crashes. Yes, you can communicate both with a company and through switching, et cetera, with radio telephone communications.

CUOMO: Bottom line, when you see this collection of data that we have so far, you believe while there's no conclusion yet, it is pointing to not the train being inherently safe or the track being inherently unsafe but that something was done with the operation of the train?

SCHIAVO: Well, statistically speaking based on how other accident investigations have turned out, yes. Often it points to operator error. When you have over-speed on a curve condition, other accidents of similar situations have been operational error.

CUOMO: And you make an important point about prior stops and the train operating in those conditions versus what happened here. Now we get to the big question. Other than why, it then gets to, well, how do you fix this going forward? You've mentioned something called Smart Track. Tell us what it is. Tell us why it wasn't here. Tell us what it would take to make it everywhere.

SCHIAVO: There's actually a system called different things in different countries. We have different systems here. It's positive train control. It was made the law -- trains were supposed to have that installed by next year, but very few do. Amtrak on the northeast corridor from D.C. to Boston has it. A few others do. But it's a system where the track actually communicates with the train. And it makes if you will, sort of a bubble around the train. It makes it impossible for the train to over-speed because it's governed by the computer and the communications with the track, and you also can't have a collision with the train because it will give you the distance, and it will tell you, literally by communicating with both equipment on the track and by satellite. The catch is, it's very expensive, and a lot of the train companies don't own the track over which they travel.

CUOMO: But lives are priceless, as we know. The question becomes --

SCHIAVO: Absolutely.

CUOMO: -- what needs to happen? You're saying the train companies or operators don't have control of the track. It could be federal, it could be state. How complicated is this to get to the next level? I know Boston has it. Is an incident like this a wakeup call?

SCHIAVO: Sadly, that is how we push legislation off in this country and lives are lost. Due to a cost benefit analysis in the federal government on this very kind of thing, how much does it cost to fix versus the cost of lives. What may happen is technology may help us. There are now systems that rely on GPS and satellite information more so than intensive equipment on the tracks, and that would help in those situations where the passengers trains travel over tracks that are privately owned by other companies.

And it will take Congress ordered it, and in many cases there are financial incentives, tax incentives, et cetera. Cost-sharing with the government that might have to happen. But it will take Congress ordering the trains to complete this, because the honor, the trust and obey system has resulted in Amtrak and a few others. It needs to go on passenger trains first. The bullet train in japan has this and that's why they can achieve speeds of 200 miles an hour.

CUOMO: Mary Schiavo, thank you very much, appreciate ihe information.

SCHIAVO: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Continue talking about this situation. So if you are in a train accident, what steps can you take to be as safe as possible? Something as simple as choosing the best seat could make all the difference. CNN's Chris Lawrence is in Washington with more on that. What have you learned, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, in just a couple seconds we're going to tell you what a national safety expert tells his own children before they get on a train. Window or aisle seat doesn't matter. But what car you pick on a train could make a big difference.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LAWRENCE: A regional train flying around curves at twice the speed limit in Spain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone was just covered in their own blood and occasionally the blood of others.

LAWRENCE: Or one Washington, D.C. subway plowing into another, and now a New York commuter train hurdling off the tracks. The crashes can have a number of causes. The one thing passengers can control, where they sit. A seat is safer than standing, and it matters which car you choose. Take it from an expert, a former manager at the NTSB.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Usually when I ride the trains I try not to sit in the first car, not to sit in the last car.

LAWRENCE: Peter Goelz says the middle car gives you the best odds of being protected, if the train smashes into something or gets rear ended by another train.

GOELZ: If there's going to be an accident, the first and last cars often take the brunt of the force.

LAWRENCE: Predicting derailments is harder. Regional trains can travel 100 miles per hour but often have to slow down to 30 around certain curves. If they don't or if there's a problem on the track, it can cause a devastating crash like metro north.

EARL WEENER, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Three of the people who died were thrown out of the car.

LAWRENCE: That's got people wondering why trains don't have seat belts. The government just made them mandatory for newly built buses.

WEENER: One of the things we'll be looking at during the investigation would be what contribution seat belts might have made to the survivability.

LAWRENCE: But using buses as a basis? It may come down to money. The government rejecting making old buses install seat belts because it would cost $40,000 per vehicle.


LAWRENCE: Peter Goelz told me the NTSB looked at it, but there wasn't enough data supporting doing it on trains. And implementing that on a mass transit basis would be, he called it, darn near impossible. I talked to another expert show said there are cases where it may be better to sit facing the back of the train. He said a lot of train accidents happen when the train is trying to sharply brake and decelerate. He said if you're face with your back it the front of the train, in those cases instead of being thrust forward you'd be pressed back into your seat.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating look. We were talking about the issue, Chris, the issue of seat belts. Thanks for that, Chris. It seems to me, if the investigation shows seatbelts would have saved lives on trains, I don't think you can put a price on that.

CUOMO: You would hope that's where everybody is. That's one of the surprising things that Mary Schiavo told us. Obviously she's not in government right now, but the idea they do cost-benefit analysis on whether or not the price and lives or the risk of safety is worth the initial exposure -- expenditure. That's something to discuss. And a lot of people get motion sickness.

BOLDUAN: A lot of people do. Fascinating take by Chris. That's information you need.

CUOMO: Government, seems like they spend money on just about everything. They don't budget the way corporations or families do. Yet they take it into consideration.

BOLDUAN: We'll check back in on that, obviously. Let's get over to Indra to get another check of the forecast. How's it looking?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Pretty good. We're still mild the next couple of days here, but there will be a big change. I'll start off with that so you know what is coming. Notice how warm it is into the southeast. Notice the chill. This is Saturday, though. I just wanted you to see how quickly all this arctic air dives to the south and spreads to the east.

Let's talk about what we've seen, plenty of snow, Michigan. Check out Jackson Hole, Wyoming. There is more of this on the way as it sags to the south and spreads farther to the east today. Let's take a look at what we're expecting as far as snow totals -- one to two feet of snow, same old hot spots from Montana in through Minnesota. Today through Colorado you'll start to see a lot of that heavy snow, one to two feet additional snow is still possible. There's the old air we showed you. You know this guy will be making its way south. You'll be seeing is the rain and snow start to spread.

The big thing you want to watch is where do you have the wintry mix where you get all the problems. It looks like the system by about Thursday or Friday so you have time. Illinois back in through Texas again, we could be seeing freezing rain. So that's something we'll be monitoring. Updating this as a system makes its way east here over the next several of days.

Look at this, loving it, 70s in Atlanta. Boston, instead of 46, 53. So everyone is happy for the next two, three days, it looks good and then it gets really cold on the weekend where no one wants to go outside.

BOLDUAN: Stop right there. Thanks, Indra.



CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, the latest into the investigation of the death of actor Paul Walker. Investigators have new video they're watching. They're working with it, trying to figure out. Also, what co-star Vin Diesel had to say to Walker's grieving fans.

BOLDUAN: And also we're going to be talking about the Amazon drone. How feasible is Amazon's plan to use drones to deliver packages in the not so distant future? Is it safe? Is it hype? Experts weigh in this morning.


BOLDUAN: Alrighty, welcome back to NEW DAY. Amazon's plan to make deliveries by drone is facing mixed reaction, I guess we could say. Many people wondering if it's even safe, let alone feasible. So is it being over-hyped or is this really a possibility in the future? Is this the future?

Jason Paur, is a aerospace correspondent for "Wired" and he's joining us now. Jason, you wrote about this yesterday and you asked that question, how much of this is reality and how much of this is hype? What do you think?

JASON PAUR, AEROSPACE CORRESPONDENT, WIRED MAGAZINE: I think everybody sort of accepts the idea that this is a big P.R. move for Amazon. It's coming on the busiest shopping day of the year for them on Cyber Monday.

There is the capability, technology-wise, to be able to do this today, even. It's just the regulations are a long ways off. The regulations they're even talking about unmanned vehicles for the next five years. The ones that Mr. Bezos mentioned are more about ones that actually are piloted. And these are supposedly autonomous vehicles. So these are even further off, I think.

BOLDUAN: I mean, but is it practical when you look at it? Do you think that this is kind of the way we're going in the future? It seems exciting for some, even though there's some privacy and safety risks.

PAUR: Yeah, I mean, I think it's feasible. Obviously, Mr. Bezos is a better businessman than me, so whether or not it's going to be practical and makes money is yet to be seen. I still think it's going to be a long, long ways off before autonomous, completely un-piloted vehicles are able to move through cities and deliver packages. It's not even on the horizon yet.

BOLDUAN: Really? You think it's even that far off?

PAUR: Yeah, because right now what they're talking about as far as the rules and regulations, they all mention that they're going to be the piloted version. So basically one person will be sitting somewhere and flying one of these vehicles. When you look through the FAA's road map that they released last month, there isn't a mention of the autonomous vehicles that would be programmed to fly to an address, for instance.

CUOMO: Government is not going to make it easy; there's no question about that. But when I think about it, I think he's already won, Bezos. I think -- I don't know if the right analogy is Steve Jobs or not, but just by imagining this, just by putting that idea out there, and actually putting a model to it, having it flying around, I feel like he's establishing himself as the new big idea guy in that space. Is that fair, whether or not it's realistic?

PAUR: Yes, to some extent. That's one of the things I wrote, is that he was the first -- you know, Amazon is the first to put together a really nice video showing how this could work. Whether or not that's imagining it first -- there's been lots of companies talking about doing this. Drones are already being used to deliver medicines and other things in some places.

So I don't know if I'd go so far as to say he's imagining -- the first to imagine such a program, but he's definitely the first to get the conversation going as far as retail deliveries go. This is the company that convinced the U.S. postal service to do deliveries on Sundays.


So they do have some sway.

PEREIRA: Maybe it's like re-imagine. Because I see what you're saying. But you're right; I mean, it's been -- farmers are using it. We know that they've been used in military operations and aid. Where else do you think -- let's be futuristic. Let's go with Kate's theme here. Where else could you see these unmanned vehicles really taking off, maybe here in America?

PAUR: Well, they're being used, as you mentioned, for a lot of places. Obviously, CNN and other news organizations use them to do photographs and shoot video. I think in the near term we're looking at more rural, less populated areas they may be using them. The first commercially certified drones are already being used up in Alaska. They were certified this summer by the FAA, and they're being used to do science surveys looking at ice flows (ph).

PEREIRA: But, no, these are not places that have sky scrapers and a lot of -- in theory, there's not a lot of other aerospace clutter, if you will. That's a big deal. Because, you know, it would never work in Manhattan, for example.

PAUR: Well, I guess I would never say never. The truth is, technologically speaking, they could fly one of these things down -- you know, from downtown to midtown to your offices here today.

CUOMO: Look at cars. You know, now cars --

PEREIRA: Can drive themselves.

CUOMO: -- they can tell you when to stop, how fast, when to move. I mean, technologies -- they say greatly exceeds our own abilities in terms of making the actions --

BOLDUAN: What about flying in inclimate weather? I mean, does the technology there for -- if the flying hibachi actually wanted to take off that it could actually fly if it was raining out to make these deliveries? I mean, there are a lot of, I feel like, challenges for technology to overcome.

PEREIRA: OK, I raise you on that. Thieves. You know that some fellows will be like, "Oh, there's a $40,000 drone. I'm going to shoot it out of the sky. I got me a nice little robot."

PAUR: It's interesting because I think the technology is there. You brought up the weather issue. They're actually doing research right now to use drones to carry explosives for avalanche control in the mountains.

BOLDUAN: That would be fascinating.

PAUR: So one of the things they're talking about is when you have -- when it's so foggy or when the weather is so bad you can't send people out to control avalanches for highways, for instance --

PEREIRA: Genius.

PAUR: -- you could pre-program a drone that can fly up at noon (ph) or up a canyon, drop an explosive that would set off an avalanche so for avalanche control. So the weather, you know, isn't necessarily an issue. The catch is, again, there's no people there in that canyon. The technology is there. For this to happen now, whether or not it can be done safely so that they're not going to fall down on people, whether or not they're going to hit buildings, lamp poles and whatever else.

PEREIRA: And financially, too.

CUOMO: Dreaming big, attaching it to the brand, is this a strong move for Bezos?


CUOMO: To have his brand be the one that imagines things. Just think about what it did for Apple.

BOLDUAN: Great to meet you. Thanks, Jason. Thanks for coming in.

PAUR: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: So let us know what you think. What would you use a drone for? Tweet us at #newday.

CUOMO: It would be nice to carry it with me in the morning.


CUOMO: Coming up on "NEW DAY", dramatic new video has been released of Paul Walker's car accident. We're learning more details about the hours before the fatal crash as well. We'll give them to you.

BOLDUAN: And for retailers, Black Friday as not so good. But Cyber Monday, that was good. So what will that mean for your prices heading into the holiday season? We'll examine it.


PEREIRA: Welcome back to "NEW DAY". Let's take a look at the stories making headlines.


PEREIRA (voice-over): Startling new information in the derailment of a New York commuter train. Federal investigators say the metro north train was going 82 miles an hour through a sharp curve that has a 30 mile-an-hour speed limit. Officials say they've subpoenaed the train engineer's cell phone records. That accident killed four and injured dozens more.

Vice President Biden in crisis mode, trying to calm tensions in Asia today. He is meeting with Japan's prime minister. Tomorrow he'll head to China. The two countries have been squabbling over an area of the East China Sea, Beijing declaring much of it to be China's air defense zone. U.S. officials are afraid of a possible military confrontation if those tensions escalate.

An update to the baby Elaina case out of Ohio. The toddler's mother and the mother's ex-boyfriend, they've both been indicted now for murder. The ex also faces evidence tampering and other charges; 18- month-old Elaina Steinfurth's disappeared back in June. her remains were found in that ex-boyfriend's garage in September.

Singer Bob Dylan under investigation for allegedly inciting racism over comments that he made in "Rolling Stone" magazine. In the interview, the singer was discussing America's history with slavery and he made a statement about Serbians being able to, quote, "sense Croatian blood". The Croatian community organizer has filed the complaint and is seeking an apology from Dylan, who has not been charged.

Feast your eyes on this, please. It is the biggest gingerbread house ever, that according to the "Guinness Book of World Records". It's in Bryan, Texas. Things are bigger in Texas. Home builders, bakers and artists, they all got together and donated their time to build it. Admission proceeds will go to a charity local hospital that benefits a charity. -- pardon me, benefits a hospital. If you were to eat the entire house -- my Producer Miguel (ph) and I did this together, counted this out -- you'd have to burn off 36 million calories.


CUOMO: Can you eat the house?

PEREIRA: You cannot. Thank you for asking, Chris. It is actually framed with wood.

BOLDUAN: So you can eat portions of the house.

PEREIRA: Yes, the outside of the house. And if somebody were to huff and puff and try to blow that house down, I think it would with stand a good gingerbread fight. BOLDUAN: Or a good rainstorm.

PEREIRA: Well, that is a problem. That's a soggy mess right there.


CUOMO: That house is targeted for vandalism. I'm telling you that right now. They're going to steal all those little candies off the sides.

PERERIA: Get me a glass of milk, I'm in.

BOLDUAN: They won the record.

PERERIA: They did. And they've got some great photos out of it.

CUOMO: Got the guy with the British voice, "It's a new record."

All right, moving on. "Fast and Furious" star Paul Walker did not die in an illegal street race. That's what police said Monday, saying a second car was not involved. But the situation does seem speed- related. And this morning, new video shows just how explosive the crash became.

CNN's Nischelle Turner is here with us following this situation. The video is tough to watch.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that video seemingly showing the moment of impact of the crash. While L.A. County Sheriff's Department continues its investigation, friends, family and fans of Paul Walker's continue to mourn.


TURNER (voice-over): Fast cars and high-octane driving, the keys of the "Fast and Furious" franchise and possibly the cause of death of one of the film's stars.

Investigators say they believe the fiery crash that killed Paul Walker and a friend on Saturday involved a single speeding car. His "Fast and Furious" co-star, Vin Diesel, visited the crash site Monday night. He addressed a crowd gathered at the memorial.

VIN DEISEL, ACTOR: Thank you for coming down here and showing that angel up in heaven how much you appreciated him.


TURNER: OMG insider obtained this surveillance video showing the moment the 2005 Porsche Carrera GT, driven by Walker's racing team partner Roger Rodas, slammed into a light pole.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE; We have confirmed two DOA.

TURNER: The L.A. County Sheriff's Department investigated and ruled out a tip that the crash may have been the result of a street race. An eye witness backs up that conclusion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When they passed us, there were no other cars around them at all. And there was only one car, and we were listening for it, and when they, you know -- when they hit it a little bit and you could hear their exhaust, there's only one car.