Federal investigators found the cause of a deadly 2015 Metro-North train crash that killed six people in Mount Pleasant, New York, was a driver who moved her Mercedes Benz SUV onto the tracks despite active crossing warnings and closed gates, but they also found room for safety improvements.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the driver, Ellen Brody, drove onto the tracks on Feb. 3, 2015, “for undetermined reasons.” Witnesses said the vehicle became stuck on the tracks, and investigators determined that Ms. Brody exited her vehicle and walked back to where the gate had lowered, reducing the time she had to get herself and her SUV out of harm’s way.
A Metro-North commuter train traveling 59 mph slammed into the SUV, killing Ms. Brody and dislodging a third electrified rail that penetrated the railcar. Five train passengers were killed and nine more injured.
The train continued to push the SUV about 1,000 feet down the track before slowing to a stop and erupting in a blaze that consumed the first train car.
NTSB investigators ruled out several potential factors in the crash, including the train’s mechanical condition, the engineer’s performance, fatigue, cell phone use, alcohol, drugs, and weather.
While investigators determined Ms. Brody was at fault for the accident – the deadliest in Metro-North’s history – they found the tracks contributed to the severity of the crash.
According to the New York Times, “The electrified third rail was constructed in such a way that the crash caused it to rip away and tear through (the) train.”
The NTSB’s focus on the third rail, which is unique to Metro-North, led it to make safety recommendations calling for the appropriate federal agencies to order risk assessments of rail crossings that have a third-rail component and to mitigate risks in crossings where the third rail is found to be potentially dangerous in the event of an accident.
The town of Mount Pleasant is considering petitioning the Department of Transportation to shut down the Commerce Street crossing where the deadly crash occurred – a measure that is supported by the NTSB’s findings. Investigators recommended that Mount Pleasant find ways to improve grade crossing safety, including possibly shutting down the Commerce Street crossing.
“The NTSB determinations are a sobering reminder of the need to constantly monitor our at-grade rail crossing safety warning systems and vigorously enforce rail crossing safety laws,” Assemblyman David Buchwald, D-White Plains said, according to the White Plains Patch.