Six Metro-North Railroad passengers and the driver of an SUV that was stuck on the tracks were killed in a devastating collision Tuesday night. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it is the deadliest rail accident in New York since nine teens were killed when a Long Island Rail Road train hit a van in March 1982.
In addition to the six deaths, there were 15 injuries, including one “critical” and another labeled “serious,” according to officials. Survivors are being treated at Westchester County Medical Center for everything from smoke inhalation, lacerations, and contusions, to burns, fractures, and crush injuries.
Investigating the cause of a deadly accident is an important part of coming to grips with a devastating injury or tragic loss. Unfortunately, family members and friends are not always kept in the loop by busy police officers tending to the scene, and punishing negligence does not always naturally follow a probe. That’s where the New York train accident lawyers at Eisbrouch Marsh step in.
If you or a loved one have suffered injury or losses due to an accident involving Metro-North, NJ Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Amtrak or any other rail line, contact us today for a comprehensive no-fee consultation to learn about your legal rights: 201-342-5545.
What happened in Tuesday’s MNR crash?
Investigators weren’t sure how Ellen Brody’s SUV became stranded on the train tracks in Westchester County. People who knew the mother of three said there “was nothing reckless” about the way she conducted herself. Preliminary evidence suggests that human error played a role in the crash that happened in the suburb of Valhalla, 20 minutes outside New York City.
Rush-hour traffic on Taconic State Parkway was particularly heavy and vehicles were traveling through the two-lane Commerce Street crossing, as part of a detour from an earlier traffic accident. Upon noticing the flashing lights and clanging bell of the train signal, motorist Rick Hope abruptly stopped and backed up to allow more room between himself and the train. He waited for the woman ahead of him to do the same, but her Mercedes SUV pulled forward and became stuck instead.
“It was dark – maybe she didn’t know she was in front of the gate,” the man suggested. “She looked a bit confused” and tried to wiggle the gate, he said. Eyewitnesses say she got out of the vehicle to see what had happened and was frantically waving her arms to flag down the train when the accident occurred. The Harlem Line train coming out of Grand Central Terminal struck the SUV directly in the center, pushing it 400 feet down the track.
A spark from the third rail line ignited the gas in the vehicle, causing a violent explosion. Officials said the car debris struck the rail line with such force that the line broke and sliced through the first train car, which became a raging inferno. All but one of the train crash victims were charred beyond recognition in a scene that survivors called “horrific and unimaginable.”
Investigation into crash factors is underway
The train engineer, who had been with the railroad for three years and on the job for nine months, “did everything he was supposed to do,” according to Metro-North union spokesperson Anthony Bottalico. This includes applying emergency brakes as soon as he noticed a disabled vehicle on the tracks and evacuating passengers for as long as he could before being overcome from smoke inhalation.
“It’s going to take up two or three seconds for an engineer to see (the car) and react,” added retired NTSB investigator Russell Quimby in an intereview with LoHud Journal News. “Timing is everything, and depending on what movements she made, he might not have had any time.”
The National Transportation Safety Board said “nothing is off the table” in their investigation, but it could take up to a year to get all the answers. Within a week, investigators will finish reviewing recorder data from the rail traffic signals, highway signals, and crossing arms to gain additional insight into what may have happened.
Was Metro-North at fault for the accident?
Metro-North, the nation’s second largest commuter rail, attracted scrutiny from the Federal Railroad Administration following “a series of crashes that killed six people in less than a year,” according to the NY Times, “including a derailment in 2013 on the Hudson line that left four commuters dead in the Bronx.”
Last year, the administration’s report criticized Metro-North for lapses in maintenance and oversight that led to five accidents, which caused $28 million in damages, the loss of six lives, and more than 125 injuries in less than a year.
The FRA identified three major safety concerns that came up in each of the accidents: “An overemphasis on time performance; an ineffective safety department and poor safety culture; and an ineffective training program.”
Lawsuits are currently being pursued by families of the four victims who died in a December 1 crash in which a train driver with undiagnosed sleep apnea fell asleep at the wheel, causing the train to hit 82 miles per hour on a 30-mile-per-hour curve. Some say the crash could have been prevented if Metro-North adopted a policy similar to the Federal Aviation Administration, which would test obese workers for sleep apnea. Others say that using positive train control to keep the train within the published speed limits, even when the driver is asleep or otherwise incapacitated, would have prevented the crash. There is no telling what discovery will turn up in Tuesday’s tragic incident.
Our train accident lawyers dig up the facts
We understand that a lawsuit is the last thing on a person’s mind in the wake of a tragedy such as the Metro-North crash, but when the time is right, our NJ personal injury attorneys are here to lend a sympathetic ear and legal acumen to determine liability. If mistakes have been made, they must be acknowledged so victims are justly compensated — and so similar accidents do not occur in the future.
Eisbrouch Marsh railroad accident attorneys have already begun looking into the facts surrounding this case, and are standing by to process requests from survivors and people who have lost loved ones in the deadliest crash in Metro-North Railroad history. Confidential case reviews are offered free of charge by calling 201-342-5545.
- NY Times - After Deadly Metro-North Accident, Investigation Is Underway, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/05/nyregion/metro-north-train-crash.html?_r=0
- Reuters - Investigators gather recording devices at New York train crash site, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/04/us-usa-newyork-train-idUSKBN0L801U20150204
- NY Times - Metro-North and Railroad Regulators Are Criticized on Safety, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/29/nyregion/metro-north-and-railroad-regulators-are-criticized-on-safety.html
- LoHud Journal News – Valhalla train crash: 6 dead, 15 hurt; NTSB begins probe, http://www.lohud.com/story/news/local/westchester/2015/02/03/train-car-collide-valhalla-mass-casualties/22822737/
- Newsday - NTSB: It's a mystery why SUV was on tracks before fatal Metro-North crash, http://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/safety-gate-hit-back-of-suv-just-before-highly-unusual-metro-north-crash-senators-say-1.9902777