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NTSB investigates fatal New York commuter crash

Mystery remains over why a Mercedes-Benz was in the path of a Metro-North train around 6:30 pm on Feb. 2 in Valhalla. The National Transportation Safety Board has commenced an investigation of the accident that led to the deaths of five passengers and the car’s driver in the most fatal transit accident in the commuter railroad’s history. More than a dozen other people also suffered injuries.

The Mercedes-Benz moved suddenly into the path of the train at the train crossing, which is 30 miles north of New York City. A witness said that its driver came out of the vehicle after the crossing gate struck the rear window.

The train’s engineer saw the car and applied the brakes, but it traveled 950 feet after the brake was applied. According to the NTSB, the train was traveling two miles below the 60 mph speed limit. It also sounded its horn as it approached the crossing.

The crossing’s flashing lights and gates were properly working. The NTSB said that the warning lights began flashing 39 seconds before the crash. The gates came down a few seconds later and the car was in the train’s path for almost 30 seconds.

The witness said that he gestured to the driver to move her car but that she returned to the SUV and moved it into the path of the train. The SUV was dragged approximately 950 feet.

The first rail car was perforated by 400 feet of the electrified third rail. The NTSB said that parts of the second rail, in 80-foot sections, broke apart and piled up in the train cars.

The NTSB is recreating the crash timeline. It is also reviewing the train’s exits, the rail cars’ crashworthiness and the intensity of the fire caused by the crash, which may have been fueled by the SUV’s gas tank. The NTSB is also attempting to determine why the driver stopped the SUV on the tracks.

Until the NTSB completes its investigation, unanswered questions remain about the cause of this mass transit accident. A railroad expert and University of Dayton professor said that incoming trains can rarely stop in time for cars that are on the tracks. Victims of these accidents and their families should seek prompt legal advice to help assure that they can obtain evidence from the accident and to protect their rights in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.

Source: CNN, “NTSB: Emergency brake applied in deadly N.Y. rail crash,” Ray Sanchez, Feb. 6, 2015