Feb
03

Six dead, 15 injured after Metro-North hits Jeep near Valhalla

By

(Updated at 9:30 a.m.): Six people are dead and 15 injured after the deadliest accident in Metro-North history. Shortly after 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening, Metro-North train number 659 traveling north from Valhalla struck a black Jeep Cherokee that was, by some accounts, stuck or at least stopped in the at-grade crossing at Commerce St. near Kensico Cemetery. The driver of the car who was not in her vehicle at the time of the collision is among the dead as the force of the commuter rail pushed the Jeep nearly 10 train car-lenghts forward, and a fireball engulfed the train.

“This is a truly ugly and brutal sight,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference a few hours after the collision. The National Transportation Safety Board has already announced that it will investigate the accident, and the federal agency plans to review the MTA’s signaling and gate system at at-grade crossings.

I’m familiar with that intersection as I have family members buried in Kensico. It’s a very tight and blind curve heading north on Commerce St. into the intersection with both the Metro-North tracks and Taconic. For now, Metro-North and its investigators are not clear on the sequence of events, but Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino indicated that preliminary examinations indicate that the Jeep driver was likely at fault. One report notes that the crossing gate came down on top of the Jeep before the collision and that the driver exited her car to investigate what struck her car, apparently unbeknownst to her, a train barreled down.

The Times, meanwhile, has first-hand reports from the horrific scene:

Passengers were evacuated through the back of the train. About 400 of them were taken to a local rock-climbing gym for shelter, where buses were to take them to the next working station, said Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the authority. One passenger, Scott Miller, 45, said he was riding in the second car of the train when he heard a bang. “The train screeched to a halt, and you immediately started smelling smoke,” he said. “People started screaming, ‘Run to the back of the train,’ ” he said.

He grabbed his coat and bag and started walking down the aisle toward the back of the train with other worried passengers, he said. “It was kind of crazy,” he said. “You had firemen trying to bang open the doors. People were jumping out of the windows.”

A worker at a nearby gym, Michael McGuinn, 22, said he saw sparks flying from the front of the train and heard a huge crash. He said he saw the train braking and the car catching fire. “I knew immediately that it was a car and that it was going to be really bad,” Mr. McGuinn said. A short time later, he heard passengers moaning and trying to leave the train. “I just saw a lot of dazed and confused people,” he said. “They all looked shellshocked.”

For Metro-North, this is another in a series of recent fatal accidents. It’s their first since the December 2013, but that’s small consolation as the commuter rail’s safety practices have come under fire over the last few years. This one, at least, seems to have been outside the control of those driving the train, but serious questions about how the third rail was able to pierce so much of the rolling stock and whether evacuation options are sufficient remain.

As to service patterns for Wednesday’s rush hour commute, trains will operate from Wassaic to Southeast, where customers will be able to board a bus to Beacon for Hudson Line trains. Electric train service will operate from Brewster to Goldens Bridge. There, riders can board a bus shuttle to North White Plains where they will get back on a train. From Goldens Bridge to Pleasantville, Harlem Line riders can board buses for the trip to North White Plains. Trains will operate normally from North White Plains south while there will be no service to Valhalla or Hawthorne. Metro-North will cross-honor tickets across the system. I’ll have more as the story unfolds. Check out some photos after the jump.



Categories : Metro-North

51 Responses to “Six dead, 15 injured after Metro-North hits Jeep near Valhalla”

  1. Alex C says:

    Cuomo en route to the site is sure to lead to awful, clueless politicking and recommendations that people drive at all times.

    • JJJ says:

      Maybe he’ll cancel all rail service to keep people safe

      • John-2 says:

        A ban on any commuter trains operating on lines that contain railroad crossings.

        (Seriously, the NTSB will have to investigate why the shell of the first car of the train was pierced so easily by the third rail.)

        • pete says:

          The floor of all MTA rail passenger vehicles (yes, all 3 MTA parts) is plywood. You aren’t going to stop metal rods from piercing the train body at 50 or 100 mph http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.....n_disaster

          • adirondacker12800 says:

            Plywood may be a better choice than many other things. It’s made up of relatively tough strands of wood fiber laid in different directions. A lot like the high tech composite stuff that’s being made. It may be a safer choice in accidents with different scenarios. The designers have to take all of that into account and it’s ability to withstand 30 or 40 years of abuse.

  2. Billy G says:

    I’m surprised that those grade crossings are still allowed to exist.

    All of them south of Brewster Village station should be closed off to car traffic.

    • Tim says:

      Good luck getting the state legislature to pay for grade-crossing elimination, not to mention the NIMBYs up that way being super opposed to the necessary works required to facilitate such a project.

      • sonicboy678 says:

        Oh, you mean like the Nassau NIMBYs opposing the Third Mainline Track since there would also be grade-crossing elimination, thereby freeing up traffic slots and increasing the quality of life for all?

      • Billy G says:

        NIMBYs hate grade crossings.

        • NIMBY’s also hate the sometimes significant amount of work or land it might take to eliminate them and still maintain access.

          For example, when the LIRR eliminated grade crossings on the Montauk Branch west of Babylon, they had to construct an entirely new temporary right of way to the south of the existing tracks so the tracks at grade could be raised up in their place. Luckily there is not much between the tracks and Sunrise Highway along much of the length, so it was not a significant issue, but the same thing can’t be said for, say, New Hyde Park.

    • Eric F says:

      NY has had a series of bond referendums over the years (beginning in the 1960s) specifically to raise money to eliminate these things, and yet they endure. I guess this crossing was way up the line, as opposed to more dense southern Westchester, but still. I hate grade crossings with a passion and a state as wealthy as this should not have them on commuter train lines.

      • tacony says:

        There aren’t any grade crossings on the Harlem Line below White Plains, but about a half dozen persist just north of there.

  3. Tim says:

    She wondered what had hit her car while crossing railroad tracks? Well gee, it’s not like the lights and bells go off before the gates come down. What ever could it have been?

    SOV drivers thinking they’re the most important thing ever, she got what she deserved for leading to several deaths.

    Same thing happened in LA a few years back when a dude tried to beat the gates and 20+ commuters on a Metrolink train perished.

    • Eric F says:

      The news reports always say something like “the train slammed into the car”. The car hit the train. The train was where it was supposed to be, the car was not. The car got the worst of it, but it was the car that hit the train.

      • Ryan says:

        No, the train hit the car.

        The train was moving and the car was not.

        “Hit” is a verb that doesn’t care about rights of way, judgment calls, or wrongdoing. The moving object hit the stationary object, or two moving objects hit each other.

        We can all pretty much agree that the driver was an idiot and 100% at fault without playing semantics games and trying to redefine words.

        The train hit the car.

        • Eric F says:

          I’ll give you that. In this case the car was not moving. The car’s inappropriate location was the proximate cause of the collision. That would make for a wordy but accurate headline.

          • Ryan says:

            “Gate-jumping driver kills at least seven and injures dozens” is a simple, straightforward, and accurate headline.

            “The collision was caused by a vehicle illegally entering and stopping on the train tracks” isn’t a good headline, but is probably the cleanest way of explaining what happened in one sentence.

    • JE says:

      “SOV drivers thinking they’re the most important thing ever, she got what she deserved for leading to several deaths.”

      That’s just downright offensive.

      • StanislausBabalistic says:

        To who? The 6 victims of the driver’s stupidity? Or to people who knew the idiot driver who didn’t realize that there were, you know, train tracks?

        • JE says:

          There are good SUV drivers and bad SUV drivers. Saying that those who drive such vehicles are history’s greatest monsters is indeed offensive. (And I say that as the owner of a tiny car.)

          And, no, even people who do something monumentally negligent doesn’t “deserve” to die.

          • Taylor says:

            I agree with JE here. There’s no doubt that the driver was the cause of the collision, and by transference the cause of five additional deaths. While there’s seemingly no logical or rational explanation as to why she found herself park dead-center on active train tracks, I feel it’s in poor taste to speak this way about her.

            This woman was a mother with children and a family, who are not responsible for her actions. They deserve a nominal degree of respect.

    • pete says:

      She wondered what had hit her car while crossing railroad tracks? Well gee, it’s not like the lights and bells go off before the gates come down. What ever could it have been?

      She was probably calling her insurance company over the cosmetic damage to her car from the gate when the train hit her car.

  4. lawhawk says:

    Been commuting on NJ Transit for going on 15 years now, and I’ve been on trains that have hit trespassers, hit cars, or have been on trains that have been stopped because the train immediately ahead of ours derailed, hit trespassers, or cars. Many of these incidents have occurred in a short stretch of rail between Garfield and Saddle River, but the key problem is that you’ve got people who don’t respect the lights, signals, or blaring horns.

    Every day, I see people rushing to catch trains at my local stop, and even though the gates are down, people will run under or around them. That’s women in high heels, when it’s raining, snowy, or icy, as it was today.

    We have a 2-track line, which means that trains can come in either direction, and I’ve seen people realize just in time that an oncoming train is an express, or that there’s a train coming in the direction opposite from the one they were expecting.

    Either way, it’s only a matter of time before someone calculates wrong, and becomes a statistic. No matter how many signs NJ Transit puts up, or how many people are yelling at those who cross, nothing seems to get through.

    And it’s the engineers who suffer the most since there’s little they can do when a train is barreling through at speed.

    • Eric F says:

      NJ Transit has been hit with many suicides by train in recent years. Many of those “trespasser incidents” are euphemisms for suicides. I’m sure NJ Transit has to spend a lot of effort documenting the facts after each incident to avoid liability.

    • Tröllnattåg says:

      That spot is adjacent to a cemetery.

      One might think that the occasion to play “let’s tickle the railroad” is not when the night train passes the graveyard in Valhalla.

      Perhaps Odin felt disrespected.

  5. alek says:

    It was the Jeep driver’s fault. News reports states that the Jeep attempted to cross the tracks when the gates came down and hit the back of the Jeep. The driver went out and checked the damage then returned to the Jeep. She didn’t realize that the train was an express and thought it would slow down at the station. RIP to those people whom perished because of the driver’s stupidty.

  6. Jeff says:

    My prediction: New burdensome regulations imposed upon commuter rail operators, actions of the Jeep driver written off as an “accident”.

  7. tacony says:

    One note about this incident: there was already a serious motor vehicle collision on the Taconic before the Metro-North incident occurred. A lot of emergency personnel were already in the area because of that, and what I’ve read seems to suggest that part of the reason this occurred was possibly that traffic on Commerce Street was backed up onto the railroad grade crossing because drivers couldn’t get on the Taconic. Obviously one should never drive onto a RR crossing until it’s clear to travel all the way through, just like how you shouldn’t drive through an intersection until it’s clear– but we all know how often drivers “block the box.”

    Did anyone die from the earlier Taconic accident last night? I don’t know. Deaths from car accidents are so common that they usually don’t make the news. After the last couple Metro-North incidents news reporters found commuters to interview who said MNR’s safety record made them switch to driving instead of taking the train, which is a terrible miscalculation of risk, drawn by the fact that every death and injury on transit is major news whereas car deaths are treated as fait accompli. The pre-Interstate era old parkway system in Westchester is especially dangerous. This isn’t to excuse Metro-North’s recent safety record, but to put comparative risk into perspective. It’d be a shame for this incident to again put more people in Westchester in cars and out of trains, but that’s a very real outcome given the treatment in the media. And worse yet if the plans to make sure this doesn’t happen again include misguided directions of slowing down trains near grade crossings, which would undoubtedly draw more people to drive instead of taking slow transit.

    • SEAN says:

      After the last couple Metro-North incidents news reporters found commuters to interview who said MNR’s safety record made them switch to driving instead of taking the train, which is a terrible miscalculation of risk, drawn by the fact that every death and injury on transit is major news whereas car deaths are treated as fait accompli.

      Reporters can usually find someone who has a contrary opinion on any issue regardless if their views are fact based or not. News today has moved from fact gathering to overblown sensationalism & polls respond accordingly.

      Several years ago, there were a pair of train/ car crashes a bit up the line in Bedford Hills in witch GPS’s miscalculated a turn such that drivers turned on to the row instead of the next street up the hill. The first driver was required to pay back MNR for costs incurred witch included repairs to several hundred feet of track & third rail. I don’t recall the outcome of the second case, but it turns out that the GPS makers realized that there was a calculation error & redid the maps to correct the issue.

      The LIRR is loaded with grade crossings as well, on the Main line from New Hyde Park to Minneola, along the Oyster Bay & Hempstead branches & on the Ronconcoma branch just to name a few.

      • adirondacker12800 says:

        The MTA wanted to grade separate the Main Line in anticipation of East Side Access opening and the people along the line said it would make the chicken’s milk go sour and the the cow eggs come out square or something like that. The MTA wandered off to do other things.

    • Rob says:

      I’ve been at this intersection, and it is really confusing for a driver. As @tacony says, it probably was a “block the box” situation. The light on the Parkway turns red, the driver gets stuck behind a car that stopped at the red and is on the tracks. The gates come down on both sides, so the driver has nowhere to go back, so tries to go forward where there was possibly some space between the track and the gate.

  8. Tröllnattåg says:

    “….made them switch to driving instead of taking the train…”

    These are the same people stupid enough to stop on the track,
    then get out and check for a small dent from the crossing arm
    then drive forward , fully onto the tracks.
    Say, lady, did you know that those gates go down just before the train shows up?

    She finally learned that lesson, unfortunately at a great cost to the rest of us.

  9. Tröllnattåg says:

    correction:

    the rest of us. passengers of the railroad.

  10. Chris P says:

    Does anyone know how many at grade crossings there are that cross third rail tracks on Metro North? I’ve lived in Westchester for a few years and the two crossings near Hawthorne seem to be the only ones I’ve seen. I imagine after this incident there will be even fewer of these crossings than there are now.

    • lawhawk says:

      Don’t know the numbers, but they aren’t going to be reduced because there’s no money in the capital budget to eliminate grade crossings.

    • The following were grade crossings in third rail territory as of a few years ago (though I can’t imagine much changing since then):

      Hudson Line
      (None)

      Harlem Line
      Virginia Rd. (North White Plaines)
      Cleveland Av. (Valhalla)
      Lakeview Av. (Valhalla)
      Commerce St. (Valhalla)
      Stevens Av. (Mt. Pleasant)
      Roaring Brook Rd. (Chappaqua)
      City Water (Mt. Kisco)
      Green Lane (Bedford Hills)
      Jay St. (Katonah)
      Dynamite [P] (Katonah)
      Brewster Hwy. (Brewster)

      New Haven Line
      (None)

      All of the crossings on the Harlem Line have both flashers and gates, with the exception of City Water (Mount Kisco, small access road, no through traffic) which does not have gates and Dynamite (Katonah, private crossing) which has neither flashers nor gates.

      • Going through my list, the LIRR seems to have about 84 crossings in electric territory:

        Montauk Branch
        Higbie Lane (Babylon)

        Main Line
        11th Street (Long Island City)
        Convert Avenue (New Hyde Park)
        So. 12th Street (New Hyde Park)
        New Hyde Park Road (New Hyde Park)
        Main Street (Mineola)
        Willis Avenue (Mineola)
        School Street (Westbury)
        Urban Avenue (Westbury)
        New South Road (Grumman)
        South Oyster Bay Road (Grumman)
        Grumman Access Road (Grumman)
        Stewart Avenue (Bethpage)
        Broadway (Bethpage)
        Merritt Road (Farmingdale)
        Melville Avenue (Farmingdale)
        Main Street (Farmingdale)
        Elizabeth Avenue (Farmingdale)
        Secatogue Avenue (Farmingdale)
        Corporal Tony Casamento Highway (Farmingdale)
        Wellwood Avenue (Farmingdale)
        Little East Neck Road (Wyandanch)
        So. 18th Street (Wyandanch)
        Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (Wyandanch)
        Carl’s Path (West Deer Park)
        Cormack Road (West Deer Park)
        Grant Avenue (Deer Park)
        Wicks Road (Brentwood)
        2nd Street (Brentwood)
        4th Street (Brentwood)
        Brentwood Road (Brentwood)
        Islip Avenue (Islip)
        No. Peters Boulevard (Islip)
        Wheeler Road (Central Islip)
        Lowell Avenue (Central Islip)
        Ocean Avenue (Ronkonkoma)
        Pond Road (Ronkonkoma)

        Atlantic Branch
        (none)

        Port Washington Branch
        Little Neck Parkway(Little Neck)

        Far Rockaway Branch
        Dubois Avenue (Valley Stream)
        West Broadway (Hewlett)
        Franklin Avenue (Hewlett)
        Franklin Place (Hewlett)
        Irving Place (Hewlett)
        Woodmere Boulevard (Woodmere)
        Prospect Avenue (Cedarhurst)
        Grove Avenue (Cedarhurst)
        Cedarhurst Avenue (Cedarhurst)
        Washington Avenue (Cedarhurst)
        Rockaway Turnpike (Lawrence)
        Lawrence Avenue (Lawrence)
        Doughty Boulevard (Inwood)

        Long Beach Branch
        Rocklyn Avenue (Lynbrook)
        Centre Avenue (Lynbrook)
        Ocean Avenue (East Rockaway)
        Atlantic Avenue (East Rockaway)
        Anchor Avenue (Oceanside)
        Weidner Avenue (Oceanside)
        Long Beach Road (Island Park)
        Long Beach Road (Island Park)

        West Hempstead Branch
        Motley Street (Malverne)
        Franklin Avenue (Malverne)
        Hempstead Avenue (Malverne)
        Ocean Avenue (Malverne)
        Woodfield Road (Lakeview)
        Eagle Avenue (Lakeview)
        Chesnut Street (West Hempstead)

        Hempstead Branch
        Convert Avenue (Stewart Manor)
        New Hyde Park Road (Garden City)
        Nassau Boulevard (Garden City)
        Cathedral Avenue (Garden City)
        Hilton Avenue (Garden City)

        Oyster Bay Branch
        Willis Avenue (Mineola)
        NY-25B (East Williston)

        Port Jefferson Branch
        Robbins Lane (Plainview)
        Jackson Avenue (Syosset)
        Syosset-Woodbury Road (Syosset)
        Avery Road (Syosset)
        East Gate Road (Cold Spring Harbor)
        West Rogues Path (Cold Spring Harbor)
        Oakwood Road (Huntington)
        West 11th Street (Huntington)
        West Pulaski Road (Huntington)
        McKay Road (Huntington)
        Park Avenue (Huntington)

        Central Branch
        (none)

        Bushwick Branch
        (none)

        Bay Ridge Branch
        (none)

        LIRR Secondary
        (none)

        Babylon Yard Secondary
        (none)

        Garden-Mitchell Secondary
        Parking Lot

  11. Robj says:

    Mainline Crossings:
    Hudson Line:
    MP41- Hudson Ave
    MP46- Manitou Rd
    MP63- Bank St
    +2 Private Crossings

    Harlem Line (Not including Wassiac Branch):
    MP24- Virginia Rd
    MP25- Cleveland St
    MP26- Lakeview Ave
    MP26- Commerce St
    MP27- Stevens Ave
    MP34- Roaring Brook Rd
    MP35- City Water
    MP38- Green Lane
    MP41- Jay St
    MP52- Brewster Hwy
    +1 Private Crossing

    New Haven Line: NO CROSSINGS

    Wassiac Branch: 18 Public + 6 Private
    New Canaan Branch: 10 Public + 1 Private
    Danbury Branch: 28 Public + 8 Private
    Waterbury Branch: 10 Public + 4 Private

    This data does not provide a complete picture, and is only accurate to the best of my knowledge, but here’s the situation as I see it:

    Metro north territory can be roughly split into two groups:
    Main-line, grade-seperated, high-speed territory, direct service to GCT at all times, mostly electric
    -New Haven Line
    -Harlem Line, south of North White Plains
    -Hudson Line*
    Branch-line, single-track, lower-speed territory, possible light service to GCT only at peak times, mostly diesel service
    -Wassiac Branch
    -New Canaan Branch
    -Danbury Branch**
    -Waterbury Branch
    *While there _are_ grade crossings on the Hudson line north of Croton-Harmon, and electric territory ends at Croton-Harmon, the number of grade crossings is quite small, and they connect to parks, boat houses, and a few homes. The line is largely on a river, and so none of the grade crossings carry through-traffic.
    **Yes, I realize the New Canaan is electrified. It’s still low-speed, crosing-heavy, single-track, and does not have direct service to GCT at all times.

    The Harlem Line between NWP and Southeast is an interesting Hybrid of these two types. This portion of the line was only electrified relatively recently (1984) and was not “fixed” in the grade crossing elimination projects of the early 20th century. This means, that while the physical characteristics of the line make it seem much like a branch (in terms of crossing density), the level of service provided by MNR is much more like a main-line (in terms of Max-Allowable-Speed, and Express Service).

    • Robj says:

      Moving forward, this gives the politicians an interesting problem to discuss, namely: When does a line stop being a branch, and become a mainline, and should different rules apply to mainline crossings?

      Amtrak, for example has a few pretty advanced crossings on the NEC east of New Haven (Acela territory, etc.). It would be interesting if MNR was required to bring their high-speed/mainline crossings up to these standards (or, eliminate them altogether).

      I’m not sure what to expect from Andrew “father knows best” Cuomo and Richard “hero of the people” Blumenthal, but I am hoping for something more than finger-pointing and a review of train-evacuation procedures.

      • adirondacker12800 says:

        It’s been the mainline to Chatham since it got to Chatham. And after it stopped going to Chatham.
        The remaining grade crossing on the line east of New Haven aren’t high speed. Amtrak and Connecticut decided something should be done about them with the increasing traffic.

    • SEAN says:

      Let me add that prior to the 1984 upper Harlem line upgrades, there were only eight peek trains north of NWP in each direction as I remember the schedule. Today service has grown substantially since then.

      • Robj says:

        Service today:
        84 from White Plains/NWP
        98 to White Plains/NWP
        42 from Brewster/Southeast
        44 to Brewster/Southeast
        13 from Wassiac (4 Peak Direct to GCT)
        14 to Wassiac (4 Peak Direct from GCT)

        72 from Croton-Harmon
        77 to Croton-Harmon
        32 from Poughkeepsie (29 Direct)
        30 to Poughkeepsie (29 Direct)

        * None of this includes “short turn” service which would increase the numbers shown here by ~%15(i.e. trains terminating at Mt. Vernon West, Crestwood, Mt. Kisco, Greystone, etc.)

  12. Tröllnattåg says:

    Quite a bit of this accident could have been mitigated if the 3rd rail end sloped down and anchored into the ground.
    Of course, that would short the entire segment to ground, making that section useless.

    I s’pose one could place a ski jump before each 3rd rail end at a grade crossing, but this would almost certainly have other consequences. You’d need a gap between guard rail and 3rd rail. which a sliding vehicle could still catch on.
    I believe a less likely to snag 3rd rail end system is possible, but it would not be as simple as it appears and would introduced one more maintenance issue, all for an event which will happen maybe once in perhaps million trips.

    3rd rail does not belong at ground level in suburbs tho, never did never will.

    • adirondacker12800 says:

      Connecticut banned it after some tests by the New Haven which is one of the many reasons the New Haven line uses high voltage overhead.

    • sonicboy678 says:

      I don’t see how your proposals would work with bottom-grip third rail. It can work at ground level so long as there are no grade crossings, but it is agreeable that it is a bad idea if those crossings exist.

      • Spendmor Wastemor says:

        Some assembly required.

        example 1: set the ski jump offset so it’s a few inches outside of the 3rd rail, beyond the pickup shoes. Chances are the car is not -exactly- coincident with the 3rd rail, it’s either a bit inside and misses it, or a bit overlapping.
        Other such gimmicks are possible. None will work ever time.

  13. ajedrez says:

    By the way, interviews with an eyewitness show that the woman stopped when the gate hit the back of her car, when she was on the ROW, but not the track itself. She apparently got out, tried to move the gate up (but couldn’t), and then got back in the car and drove forward into the path of the train (which was actually on the opposite track).

    So in other words, had she stayed where she was, her and 5 other people would still be alive today. Or if she had just backed up without regard to the gate, or even moved forward as soon as the gate hit her car, the accident wouldn’t have happened.

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