Six people died in a collision between a Jeep Cherokee SUV and a commuter train that occurred in the early evening hours on February 3rd in the Westchester County hamlet of Valhalla. The SUV was stopped on the tracks when it was struck by the Metro-North train. The front car of the train and the Jeep both caught fire due to penetration by the electrical third rail, badly burning both vehicles. The crash took the lives of five passengers on the train as well as the driver of the SUV. Over a dozen other train passengers were hospitalized.
This Harlem Line of the Metro-North transports about 280,000 riders a day between 125th street in New York City and Wassaic in Dutchess County near the Connecticut border. Several hundred passengers were on their way home when the crash occurred.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has sent a go-team to the site to investigate details related to the cause of the crash. According to a witness at the scene, it appears that the driver of the SUV had driven onto the tracks and exited the automobile when the safety gates at the crossing came down on either side of the vehicle. Possibly the driver had gotten out to inspect any damage to her vehicle the gate arm may have caused. The driver is reported to have gotten back in the car and was attempting to drive forward when her vehicle was struck by the train. It is unknown at this time why the driver stopped on the tracks in the first place.
The gate arms at railroad grade crossings are made of wood and are designed to be easily broken by a trapped car moving forward or backward, but there may not have been time in this instance before the collision. A driver behind the SUV apparently backed up to give the SUV room to back out, but it started to move forward instead. This witness also said that a gate arm struck the SUV when it lowered, although gate arms are supposed to lift automatically by design if they strike an object such as an automobile on the way down.
This tragic incident is the most deadly accident for the Metro-North railroad, but it is not the first. In December 2013, a derailment occurred from a train speeding around a curve, killing four passengers and injuring about 60 more. The railroad was faulted by the NTSB last year for five different accidents in New York and Connecticut in 2013 and 2014, although it noted that conditions have improved since that spate of accidents. The Federal Railroad Administration also issued a report against the rail line last year, claiming that railroad executives favored keeping timetables over concerns for safety.
Legal Help is Available for New York Train Accidents
Accidents at railroad crossings nearly always cause serious or fatal injuries to the passengers of the vehicle involved in the collision, and often times the accident is the fault of the railroad due to unmarked crossings or failure of the signal lights or crossing gates, or failure of the oncoming train to sound its approach. If you or a loved one has been injured or worse in a New York train accident, contact Basch & Keegan to speak with compassionate and experienced railroad accident attorneys.