One day after a Metro-North train slammed into an SUV in Valhalla, N.Y., killing six and injuring 15, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and two separate federal agencies have launched investigations.
The incident has once again thrust into the spotlight Metro-North’s safety record, which has featured five accidents — including a derailment in the Bronx in Dec. 2013 that killed four and injured 61 — in the last two years. The MTA, the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have all launched separate investigations.
In a Wednesday afternoon press conference call, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal ’73 and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer vowed to push for answers to what transpired in the moments before and after the train struck the car Tuesday evening.
“At the moment, there are more questions than answers, and there is a need for answers right away,” Blumenthal said on the call.
Blumenthal said that, in previous Metro-North crashes, the government did not respond quickly enough to properly investigate the incidents. This time, however, he said there will be an immediate preliminary assessment of the accident conducted by the NTSB — selected because the organization is not subject to pressure from outside parties.
The train and a Jeep Cherokee SUV collided Tuesday around 6:30 p.m. in the Westchester County hamlet. After the train hit the car at roughly 58 miles per hour — within the train’s speed limit, Schumer noted on Wednesday’s call — the train track’s electrified third rail came off the ground and pierced both the car and the train. That, combined with gasoline from the car, was enough to start a deadly fire in the train’s first car.
Robert Sumwalt, a member of the NTSB board, said in a press conference yesterday that the entire interior of the first rail car had burned down.
“It’s too early to point any fingers. We are not casting any blame yet,” Schumer said.
The NTSB will examine the infrastructure of Metro-North trains and tracks, as well as the condition of lighting and signage along the tracks in order to prevent future accidents, he noted.
In Connecticut, State Rep. Tony Guerrera, who is the co-chairman of the legislature’s transportation committee, is already seeking ways to improve Metro-North train safety, according to the Hartford Courant. The Courant also reported that Guerrera intends to ask MTA President Thomas Prendergast to bring answers to the committee.
Vice chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council John Hartwell told the News that Metro North’s first priority is to get the line operating again.
“This is the biggest, deadliest accident from Metro-North,” Hartwell said. “There’s clearly a lot of work to be done.”
Hartwell stressed that Metro-North must focus on boosting commuter confidence, adding that this most recent accident only exacerbates public worry that currently stems from a number of accidents on Metro-North in the past two years.
New Haven Director of Transportation, Traffic and Parking Doug Hausladen ’04 said that, although the fatalities were tragic, the public often fails to view accidents, such as the recent Metro-North collision, in perspective. Hausladen specifically noted that more lives were lost that day in accidents on I-94 and I-95.
“These accidents bring a lot of attention because they’re in the media, but there’s a large number of casualties going on out there in the streets,” Hausladen said.