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Metro-North Train Slams into SUV at Railroad Crossing; Six Dead

The commuter train had left Grand Central Terminal on Tuesday evening and hit the Jeep at a grade crossing in Valhalla, Westchester County at 6:30 pm. Five passengers died in the lead car of the train which was engulfed in flames from the impact.
February 4, 2015, 11am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Metro-North, operated by the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), is an electrified commuter rail line that draws its electricity from what's referred to as a third rail, which became unhinged due to the force of the impact with the vehicle at the railroad crossing, now the deadliest crash in the the train line's history.

"Officials said the electrified third rail penetrated the vehicle and the train's first car, causing them to burst into flames," writes Kate Hinds of WNYC News. The driver of the Jeep also died.

A more precise account of what caused the fire was offered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, reports the Daily News. "It appears that the [vehicle's] gasoline tank burst and that started the fire, consumed the [SUV] and consuming the first car of the first train,” Cuomo said on “CBS This Morning.”

The scene of the deadliest crash in Metro-North history was “as gruesome as I have seen,” the governor said. The entire first car, including all the seats, was burned or charred.

"No one here has ever seen anything like this," a law enforcement source told The Post. "It was a gruesome scene."

"It was not immediately clear why the car, described as a black Jeep Cherokee, was on the tracks," writes Hinds. "In an email, Metro-North spokeswoman Margie Anders said crossing gates came down on top of the vehicle."

The driver got out to look at the rear of the car," Anders wrote, "then she got back in and drove forward and was struck."

Gov. Cuomo told NY1 News, "Sometimes accidents just happen...Someone made a mistake and stopped on the tracks."

However, it's not even clear that the vehicle had stopped on the tracks when it was hit, according to accounts of the incident. After initially stopping, the motorist may have driven forwards thinking she could clear the tracks before the train passed.

"This is the second Metro-North crash with multiple fatalities in a little over a year," writes Hinds. "In December 2013, a train derailed in the Bronx, killing four and injuring scores." In May, 2013, two Metro-North trains collided near Fairfield, Conn., injuring 60 people, five of them critically.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash scene in Valhalla. "The NTSB team will stay on the scene for five to seven days, but a full investigation will take about a year," reports the Daily News.

According to a Metro-North service alert, "Metro-North Harlem Line train service on Wednesday, February 4 will remain suspended between Pleasantville and North White Plains until further notice due to the train/car collision near Valhalla."

"Metro-North is the nation's second-busiest railroad, after the Long Island Rail Road," writes Hinds. "It was formed in 1983 and serves about 280,000 riders a day in New York and Connecticut."

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 in Transportation Nation
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