Tags: train | car | collision | metro north | new york

Investigators: Engineer Slammed on Brake Before Train Crash

Thursday, 05 Feb 2015 08:18 PM

A commuter train engineer hit the emergency brake as the train approached a crossing where an SUV had moved onto the tracks, despite warning signals, before a deadly crash, investigators said Thursday.

A preliminary review of the Metro-North Railroad train's data recorders also shows the train was traveling at 58 mph, just under the 60 mph speed limit, National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.

The agency hasn't mapped out how far before the Valhalla crossing the engineer hit the emergency brake on the train, which takes about 950 feet and 30 seconds to stop, he said in the second day of a probe into a crash that killed the SUV driver and five train passengers.

"What we have here is we have a mosaic," Sumwalt said. "We're going to take different pieces of information ... assemble it and see what that picture looks like" and build "a timeline so we know exactly what happened and when."

A witness says the driver had gotten out of her SUV after a crossing gate came down on it but then got back in and drove forward onto the tracks as the train approached. And the train's engineer told investigators that he saw the car moving onto the tracks, even though traffic and crossing warning signals were working properly, Sumwalt said.

After the impact, flames enveloped the SUV and part of the train, and the electrified third rail pierced them. Hundreds of passengers scrambled through spreading smoke and fear, some helping each other to escape despite their own injuries.

Trains hit cars on the tracks many times a year, but such crashes rarely kill train riders. Investigators have emphasized that they want to figure out why this one did, becoming the deadliest accident in the 32-year history of one of the nation's busiest commuter railroads.

Investigators are looking for any elements that may have intensified the fire, which they believe was ignited by the SUV's gas tank. The NTSB has been examining such factors as the adequacy of emergency exits, the crashworthiness of the train cars and the third rail's design.

The design was an unusual one, Sumwalt said, but investigators have yet to determine whether that played any role in allowing the rail to pierce the train cars.

Passengers returned, some with hesitation, as service resumed Thursday on the line where the crash happened, after workers rebuilt about 500 feet of the third rail.

Julie Garla was feeling "very lucky and still a little scared" as she rode the Harlem Line — but not in her usual seat. She used to prefer the front car because it's more convenient when she gets out at Grand Central Terminal. But the front car became the death zone in Tuesday's wreck.

"Now, I'll have to balance everyday convenience against safety," she said.

But Bill Peterson is sticking with riding in the front.

"I believe the Lord's going to protect me," he said, and "the chances of it happening again are probably tiny."

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A commuter train engineer hit the emergency brake as the train approached a crossing where an SUV had moved onto the tracks, despite warning signals, before a deadly crash, investigators said Thursday.
train, car, collision, metro north, new york
498
2015-18-05
Thursday, 05 Feb 2015 08:18 PM
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