Seven dead as commuter train hits car near New York City

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 04, 2015 5:24 AM

By David Gaffen and Adrees Latif

MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. (Reuters) - Seven people were killed and a dozen injured when a crowded New York commuter train struck a car stalled on the tracks near suburban White Plains during rush hour on Tuesday evening, in what officials said was the railroad's deadliest accident.

Six people on the train died, as well as the driver of a Jeep Cherokee that got stuck on the tracks and was hit at about 6:30 p.m. (2330 GMT) on Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a news conference.

"This is a truly ugly and brutal sight," he told reporters after visiting the scene in Valhalla, some 20 miles (32 km) north of New York City. "The third rail of the track came up from the explosion and went right through the (rail) car, it's a devastatingly ugly situation."

"It's actually amazing that not more people were hurt on that train," Cuomo added.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino told reporters 12 people were injured, 10 of them seriously. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) said the crash was the deadliest accident for Metro-North, the second largest commuter railroad in the United States.

The crash also meant that thousands of commuters faced a snarled journey to work on Wednesday morning.

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said roughly 45,000 riders take the Metro-North Railroad's Harlem Line on an average weekday, about 14,000 of whom board north of where the crash occurred and would be directly affected.

Parts of the line would stay closed on Wednesday, according to the MTA, which was arranging for shuttle buses to fill the gap and warned of crowding and delays.

The third rail, which carries 750 volts of direct current, tore through the floor of the first car of the train, charring the carriage and sending billows of smoke into the air. Damage to the other seven cars was minimal.

Hundreds of passengers from the eight-car train were taken to a rock-climbing gym for shelter, authorities said.

Jared Woodard, an employee of BGC Financial in New York, who was on the train traveling home to Chappaqua, described the frightening scenes as the train was evacuated.

"The smoke was orange coming off the train, it was still on fire at that point. The front car was billowing heavy smoke out of the windows and doors," Woodard said.

Media reports said the driver of the car got out briefly to try to push it off the tracks, then got back in before it was hit by the train.

Some 650 passengers regularly take the train, which carries commuters through affluent New York City suburbs such as Westchester County, one of the richest in the United States.

Westchester is home to many bankers, doctors and corporate lawyers, boasts a median household income of roughly $82,000, and houses the headquarters of major companies, including IBM and PepsiCo Inc.

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Tuesday's crash is the latest in a string of accidents involving Metro-North trains in recent years, which have drawn strong criticism.

One derailed near the northern edge of New York City on Dec. 1, 2013, killing four people and injuring 70. It was traveling nearly three times the speed limit for the section of track where it crashed, investigators said.

Astorino made a distinction between that crash, which was the result of a train employee error, and Tuesday's accident. But he said the latest incident was still under investigation.

In May 2013, two Metro-North passenger trains collided between Fairfield and Bridgeport, Connecticut, injuring more than 70 people and halting services.

The National Transportation Safety Board released a report late last year that identified common safety issues with the railroad following probes of those accidents and three others between May 2013 and March 2014.

The safety board said it was sending investigators to the scene of Tuesday's crash.

(Additional reporting by Mike Segar in Mount Pleasant, Jonathan Allen and Chris Kaufman in New York City; Writing by Fiona Ortiz and Curtis Skinner; Editing by Dominic Evans)