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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

NTSB: 12 sections of third rail found inside damaged Metro-North car


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) yesterday issued its preliminary report on the Feb. 3 collision between an MTA Metro-North Railroad train and a sport utility vehicle at a crossing in Valhalla, N.Y.

The collision caused six fatalities, including the SUV driver. About 650 passengers were on board the train.

The NTSB's preliminary findings confirmed earlier reports that the train was traveling below the 60 mph speed limit and had slowed to 49 mph when the train hit the SUV, which was stopped on the tracks in the crossing. Witnesses reported the driver of the SUV was stopped in the crossing before the gates lowered. When the gate struck the rear portion of the SUV, the driver got out to look at the back of her vehicle, then got back in the vehicle, drove forward and was struck by the train.

Based on a preliminary review of the train's event recorder, investigators believe the train was traveling at 58 mph before emergency braking was applied and the horn was operated in accordance with operating rules on the approach to the crossing. The recorder indicated the train engineer activated the emergency brakes about 300 feet before the collision after seeing what he characterized as "a vehicle partially fouling the crossing." In the four seconds after applying the emergency braking, the train slowed to 49 mph, at which time it hit the SUV.

The train and SUV continued to move northbound after the impact, resulting in damage to the third rail on the west side of the track. The third rail detached, pierced the SUV and then entered the first rail car in two locations. Twelve sections of the third rail — each 39 feet long — were found inside the the first rail car. The train and vehicle finally came to a rest about 650 feet from the point of the collision.

The collision resulted in a fire that consumed the SUV and the lead rail car.

The NTSB will conduct a metallurgical examination of some of the third rail, agency officials said. Samples from the interior of the lead train car also will be examined by investigators for compliance with fire protection standards, they said.

Damage was estimated by Metro-North at $3.7 million. In addition to the NTSB, those involved in the ongoing investigation include the Federal Railroad Administration, Metro-North, the Commuter Rail Employees, the town of Mount Pleasant, and the New York Public Transportation Safety Board.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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