Six people were killed when a Metro-North train from New York City hit a sport-utility vehicle on the railroad tracks at a crossing in Westchester County. The accident created a fire and explosion. It also caused the electrified third rail to rip from the tracks and tear through the train’s first car. The crash was the deadliest crash in the Metro-North railroad’s history, reported The New York Times (2.4.15).
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were investigating the accident. With the investigation still in its early stages, officials said they “still could not explain how or why” the sport-utility vehicle got stuck on the train tracks. Investigators are also trying to understand why the SUV driver pulled forward in front of the train. According to The New York Times (2.3.15), the woman driving the vehicle did not appear to be trying to beat the train at the crossing.
To help piece together the circumstances surrounding the crash, investigators will review an event recorder on the train, watch any video of the crossing, interview passengers and train operators, and consult experts in fire science, signals, and crossings.
The data that should be available can help determine how fast the train was traveling and when its engineer activated the brakes. Investigators can also learn how the rail crossing’s system was working before the accident.
What is known is that the driver of the Mercedes SUV and five passengers on the train were killed in the crash. Over a dozen more people were injured, and hundreds of commuters were forced to evacuate the train. Injuries among the survivors included burns and smoke inhalation, fractures, lacerations, and crush injuries.
The SUV was stopped on the tracks when the railroad crossing gates came down on top of it. The driver got out to look at the back of the car, then got back in and drove forward onto the tracks. The SUV got stuck on the tracks and the train hit it, said The New York Times. The train pushed the SUV more than 400 feet down the tracks.
Metro-North experienced four high-profile accidents in 2013 that led to a safety assessment by the Federal Railroad Administration, including a derailment in 2013 on the Hudson line that killed four people and injured 70. The FRA report released in March 2014 was highly critical of Metro-North. The report identified three main safety concerns: “An overemphasis on time performance; an ineffective safety department and poor safety culture; and an ineffective training program.”
The New York Times articles cited are “Metro-North Train Hits S.U.V. in Railroad’s Deadliest Accident” and “After Deadly Metro-North Accident, Investigation Is Underway.”