Federal investigators probing the cause of a deadly Metro-North commuter train crash in Valhalla, N.Y., are analyzing the crash-worthiness of the train cars, the condition and effectiveness of rail signals and crossing gates, traffic and highway dynamics, and other variables in an effort to identify changes that could help prevent future crashes or at least lessen the severity of them.
The crash occurred Tuesday about 6:40 p.m. after Ellen Brody, a 49-year-old mother of three, became stuck on the tracks after the railroad crossing gate arm came down on the back of her Mercedes SUV. Witnesses say that Brody exited the vehicle to lift the arm and then got back in her vehicle.
Moments later, the fast-moving Harlem line carrying about 650 commuters struck Ms. Brody’s vehicle, killing her and five passengers in the front train car. Fifteen others were taken to the hospital, at least 10 of them with serious injuries.
The impact pushed the SUV about 1,000 feet down the track and created an explosion causing the electrified third rail to pierce through the first rail car and penetrate the second car. Brody’s vehicle was essentially welded to the underside of the first train car, which had completely burned out by the time responders could extinguish the blaze.
“We intend to find out not only what happened, but we want to find out why it happened,” National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) vice chairman Robert Sumwalt told reporters. “And our sole purpose for being here is to find out what happened so that we can offer recommendations to hopefully keep this from happening again.”
Along with the NTSB, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is separately investigating the crash, Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg said. According to CBS New York, the FRA said in a report to Congress last March “that Metro-North allowed safety to erode while pushing to keep its trains on time.”
“We will conduct a thorough investigation to determine the factors that contributed to this accident,” Ms. Feinberg said in a statement. “Safety must be every railroad’s absolute top priority and we will establish what lapses, if any, occurred and order any necessary corrective actions.”
Tuesday’s crash is one of several accidents involving Metro-North trains in recent months. In May 2013, two Metro-North trains collided In Bridgeport, Conn., injuring more than 70 passengers. Six months later, a Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx, killing four people and injuring more than 60.
Last week, two derailments on the same day occurred within hours of each other. Earlier this week, a train broke down, creating travel delays and stranding people in freezing temperatures. Metro-North has also been under the NTSB’s scrutiny for other safety issues, and by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for violating federal regulations pertaining to worker safety.