(Valhalla, New York – February 3, 2015)
Another deadly commuter train accident occurred on New York’s Metro North railroad during Tuesday evening’s rush hour had estimates of deaths ranging from 7 to an indeterminate number after a female driver had her Jeep Cherokee SUV trapped on the railroad’s double-tracked main line at about 6:30 P.M., EST. The Jeep driver got out of her vehicle to inspect the damage, and then inadvertently drove into the path of the Danbury, CT-bound train with in excess of 750 passengers aboard. The intersection was that of Commerce Street in Valhalla, NY, 20 miles north of NYC.
The train was operating in control car-forward mode, with the locomotive at the rear of the train, a factor which undoubtedly increased the casualty count, which currently stands at the motorist plus five people aboard the train, which shoved the SUV several hundred feet down the tracks, was penetrated by the electrical power-providing third rail, and subsequently burst into flames, creating panic and confusion aboard the train which had departed Grand Central Station in New York City just 45 minutes prior to the fatal collision.
Known as the second-busiest railroad line in the country, the line sees a daily average of 107 trains which travel at speeds as high as 60 mph. According to Federal Railroad Administration records, the crossing was the site of another fatal car/train collision in October, 1984, and has flashing lights, bells and crossing gates.
Passengers aboard the first car found themselves left to self-rescue, survival-mode, as they clambered over one another and broke out windows to escape the flames, obviously fueled by the Jeep’s fuel tank.
At one point, Metro-North Spokesman Aaron Donovan said “We’re backing away from the number of six fatalities and awaiting definitive word,” as the numbers of dead and seriously injured, which finally stabilized at six fatalities and a dozen critical injuries,fluctuated as chaos and confusion continued for hours after the tragedy. It took nearly an hour to remove all the passengers trapped aboard the train, and horror stories of ineffective rescue techniques abounded.
“I was trapped. You know there was (sic) people in front of me and behind me, and I was trapped in the middle of a car and it was getting very hot,” Justin Kaback of Danbury, CT told ABC TV News. “All the air was turned off so there was no circulation so it was definitely scary especially when people are walking by on the outside and they said ‘The train is on fire. There’s a fire!’”
Another passenger, Stacey Eisner, who was aboard the last car on the train, said that rescue personnel used ladders to evacuate the car she was riding.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which has been involved in several investigations of at least five serious and fatal accidents occurring to the predominantly passenger transportation railroad in the past 18 months, was sending a team of rail and highway safety experts to investigate the tragic accident.