Engineer in New York Train Crash Told NTSB He Saw SUV on Track

The engineer on the Metro-North Railroad train that struck a vehicle in suburban New York applied the emergency brakes four seconds before impact, saying he saw the sport-utility vehicle drive into the intersection.

The engineer told investigators he first saw a reflection in the rail crossing and moments later realized it was a vehicle, U.S. National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said at a news conference Friday. The train slowed to 48 miles per hour from 58 miles per hour before striking the Mercedes-Benz SUV.

The collision killed the driver and five railroad passengers after a fire in the first train car. The engineer -- who helped evacuate passengers including an injured man who had crawled to the exit door -- told investigators that the blaze began at the rear of the train car.

“He said he tried to go back onto the car to rescue someone else, but he was unable to do so because of the fire,” Sumwalt said.

The account given Friday paints a more detailed picture of the Feb. 3 accident, which began to unfold after a traffic jam on the adjacent Taconic State Parkway rerouted cars onto Commerce Street in Valhalla, New York, and across the train tracks. Ellen Brody, 49, the SUV driver who was heading home to Scarsdale, didn’t normally take that route, according to investigators.

While the rail crossing had lights and gates to block cars from the intersection as the train arrived, it didn’t have warning bells, Sumwalt said. The engineer of the train sounded his horn, as is required.

Third Rail

The first rail car of the eight-car train suffered the most damage and is where the five fatalities occurred. It was pierced by 12 sections of the electrified third rail -- each steel beam being 39 feet long, Sumwalt said. The steel bars were flung on the floor and up to the ceiling, he said.

The conductor on the train told investigators that the evacuation after the crash was orderly, Sumwalt said.

Power to the third rail was automatically switched off shortly after the collision, he said.

The train traveled about 650 feet after the impact, according to the NTSB.

The engineer, who was on his fourth and last trip of the day, saw the SUV before it was completely over the tracks, Sumwalt said.

“He immediately put the train into emergency braking and then saw the car advance fully onto the tracks,” he said.

As the fire advanced rapidly from the rear of the first car, he helped five or six passengers as well as the injured man he had to carry off the train, according to Sumwalt.

“Our investigators described his demeanor as very professional and I think it goes without saying that he’s very traumatized,” he said.

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