Getting back on track after Metro-North tragedy

If it turns out William Rockefeller is indeed responsible for sending the Hudson Line train off the rails in The Bronx on Sunday, we’ll be the first to say he should be held to whatever criminal or legal sanctions there may be. Already the engineer has admitted to having fallen into a daze and recovering too late to do anything about a train going 82 mph into a 30-mph curve.

But the immediate task before authorities is more fundamental. They need to figure out what exactly went wrong — and the best way to reduce the odds of a repeat.

In the days since this terrible accident, which claimed the lives of four innocents and injured more than 70 others, we have learned about what might prevent a train from going off the tracks as this one did. And it looks as though better technology could be a big part of the answer.

For example, the doomed train was equipped with an “alerter,” which sounds an alarm and deploys the brakes if an operator is unresponsive. Alas, the unit was located at the back of the train, while the motorman was at the controls in the lead car, rendering the alerter useless. In the wake of this accident, the logical question is why there aren’t alerters at both ends.

“Positive train control,” which can automatically slow a train heading into curves, might also prove effective. In the coming weeks and months, other options are likely to emerge as well.

Meanwhile, Rockefeller has been suspended without pay, and on Friday the Federal Railroad Administration ordered Metro-North to take some immediate measures and produce a longer-term plan by Dec. 31. The accident may be over, but for federal and local authorities trying to sort it out, the real work has just begun.