On Tuesday, February 3, 2015 six people were killed when a Metro North Train struck a car just north of the Valhalla Train Station. At least 12 other people on the train were injured. The victim was the driver of the SUV whose car was on the tracks when the gates at the crossing came down on her car. The woman Ellen Brody got out of her car to see the damages from the gate and the Metro North first car hit the SUV.
The Metro North Train hit the SUV at about 6:30 P.M. at a narrow 2 lane crossing causing an explosion that engulfed the car and the train. This crossing is noted as a dangerous crossing, in that, if you stop for the stop light that leads you on the Bronx River Parkway and you have 3 or more cars, at best, one of the cars will be on the tracks when the gates comes down. Although NTSD states that the gates were operating properly. The design of crossing lights and the gates closed on the car waiting at the light. Unfortunately, rather than backing up (even breaking the gates) Ellen Brody got out of her car to see the damage done from the gates and was then hit by the train. The force from the impact pushed the SUV 10 train car lengths. As reported in The Journal News on February 5, 2015 by Theresa Juoa-Brown, the train was traveling 58 m.p.h. in an area that allowed a 60 m.p.h speed. This is another area to investigate. Should the speed limit around a curve in the track just before a crossing lane be permitted?
Nearly 400 commuters were evacuated from the train and taken to a nearby Sports Club. The Club was used as a staging area to evaluate the injured and transport others to a point where they could continue their trip. The Valhalla, Hawthorne, Elmsford and North White Plains Fire Departments responded to the scene. Although all early reports seem to blame the SUV driver who caused the collision but, as time goes on and the more research is done, the NSTD issues their report, I am sure Metro North will be responsible for improper design of the third rail that pierced the first car and broken apart.
Metro North has been under scrutiny since a number of incidents have occurred questioning The Railroad Safety Measures. Here are a few major incidents; on May 17, 2013 a collision took place between 2 M-8 trains in Bridgeport, CT injuring 76 people. On May 28, 2013, a 52 year old West Haven Connecticut foreman was killed when a student rail controller mistakenly opened a work site to train traffic. On July 18, 2013, service on The Hudson Line was interrupted when 10 CSX freight train cars hauling garbage derailed in the Bronx. Another troubled tragedy occurred on December 1, 2013 when a high speed derailment in the Bronx killed 4 people and injured 71. The train operator was suffering from a sleep disorder. On March 10, 2014, a Yonkers resident was struck and killed by a Metro North Train at Park Ave and East 106th Street in New York. He was a member of a crew restoring power to tracks that had been closed for weekend work. On January 28, 2015, Metro North has had 2 minor derailments. The first on the New Haven line as it pulled away from the platform. Three hours later, a set of wheels on an empty train went off the tracks as it was entering the North White Plains Station and North and this tragedy on February 3, 2015, killing one driver and five passengers on the Metro North first car.
The railroad has received stern warning and strict orders from the Federal officials following the series of accidents in 2013 that ended with the December, 2013 accident that killed 4 passengers. Although Metro North has stepped up track repairs and inspectors added safety equipment (that was needed years ago) imposed speed restrictions (which should of taken place at the February 3, 2015 crossing accident) and enhanced employee training.
In a report in the Journal News on February 7, 2015 by Matt Spillane and Mark Lungariello, stated the engineer told investigators he saw a reflection in front of him and quickly realized it was the front end of a vehicle on the tacks. The engineer pulled the emergency brake just four seconds later. The train slowed from 58 m.p.h. to 48 m.p.h. and plowed into the SUV. The train traveled 650 feet after impact.
The engineer did not realize the third rail has penetrated the first car of the train and the car filled with smoke. The engineer helped 5 – 6 passengers off the smoke filled car and fire then engulfed the car. The coroner report on the five dead passengers in the first car showed blunt force trauma and severe burns. (Dental records were needed to identify some of the deceased). The fiery crash left twelve pieces of 39 foot sections of the third rail “scattered throughout the first rail car”. One of the rails exited the first rail car near the roof line. Both Senators Schumer & Blumenthal responded to the scene and inspected the wreckage. Senator Blumenthal described the wreckage of the first car with its interior charred and plastic windows melted. He said sections of the third rail had come through the floor like “daggers into the heart of the train”.
Metro North will have to answer many safety questions about the recent upgrades to the Commerce Street crossing. The design of the crossing, the crash worthiness of the first rail car and most importantly, the design that permitted the third rail to pierce the first car killing passengers and causing an explosion and fire. Hopefully NSTD will have begun the inspection and will be published in their ultimate report.
If you, or someone you know, has been injured by a train, while driving, contact the law firm of Dominick J. Robustelli & Associates, PLLC at (914) 288-0800.