New York Commuter Train in Deadly Crash

By | February 4, 2015

A northbound Metro-North Railroad train ferrying commuters from New York City struck a car during evening rush hour Tuesday in New York’s Westchester County, killing at least six people.

Among the dead were passengers from the train and the female driver of a black Jeep Cherokee who was outside the vehicle, the New York Times reported. It was the worst crash in the railroad’s history, the newspaper said.

(Earlier reports said seven people were killed. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a state agency that runs the line, lowered its death count overnight from seven. Five people on the train died, along with the driver of the vehicle it collided with, according to an e-mail from Aaron Donovan, an MTA spokesman. Fifteen people were being treated in hospitals, and seven are in very serious condition, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday morning on CBS television.)

The car was stopped on the tracks at Commerce Street in Valhalla, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) north of Midtown Manhattan, according to an e-mailed statement from Aaron Donovan, an MTA spokesman. Photos of the scene showed flames and smoke billowing from at least one car.

The accident came 14 months after a fatal Metro-North accident in the Bronx, and presented a major obstruction on a transit artery for thousands of workers.

Update: Safety Board Investigating New York Train Crash
On Wednesday, there will be no train service at Valhalla or Hawthorne stations on the Hudson Line and limited service above the North White Plains station, according to the MTA.

The accident occurred at 6:30 p.m. on a commuter train scheduled to leave New York’s Grand Central Station at 5:44 p.m., according to Donovan. The gates came down on the Jeep, which was shoved about 10 car lengths by the train, Donovan said.

Crash Scene

Passengers evacuated through the back of the train, and some were taken to a rock-climbing gym for shelter, Donovan said. By 10:50 p.m., passengers had left the gym, which was about to close its doors for the night, Mike McGuinn, an employee, said in a telephone interview.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to investigate the accident, the agency said in a statement. Investigators from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration also are headed to the crash scene, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York tweeted.

Trains Suspended

Trains between Pleasantville and North White Plains will remain suspended “until further notice,” according to a statement posted on the Metro-North website. Limited service for buses and trains will be available for Upper Harlem Line customers, it said.

In December 2013, a Metro-North train derailed near the Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx, killing four passengers and injuring 63. The engineer in that fatal accident had a sleeping disorder that wasn’t properly monitored, the NTSB said in October.

U.S. investigators said last year that Metro-North lacked “safety culture,” a deficiency similar to the causes of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the 2003 Columbia space shuttle explosion and the 2010 BP Plc oil spill.

Investigation

Railroad management failed to investigate damaged tracks and follow its own safety protocols, the NTSB said in a report released Nov. 19. The agency examined five incidents that took place from May 2013 to March 2014, including the fatal crash in the Bronx.

The type of intersection where Tuesday’s accident occurred, a so-called grade crossing, has a bloody history.

Six people were killed and 16 were injured when a tractor- trailer failed to stop at a grade crossing and hit an Amtrak passenger train in Miriam, Nevada, in 2011.

The accident prompted NTSB to call on the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Highway Administration to develop a plan to help states improve safety. The administration said in a May 1, 2013, letter to NTSB that it was still working on it.

The MTA is the largest U.S. mass-transit system. It serves an average 8.6 million riders per weekday on the New York City subways and buses as well as Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road.

–With assistance from Alan Levin in Washington and Douglas Lytle in London.

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