Fiery train crash in NY investigated

2015-02-04 17:57
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Major train smash in US

At least six people have been killed and scores more injured in the worst accident in the US Metrorail system's 33-year history. A transit train smashed into the rear of another during the height of Washington’s evening rush hour, Monday June 22, 2009.

Valhalla - Investigators headed on Wednesday to the wreckage of a fiery commuter train crash, seeking clues to why an SUV was stopped on the tracks when the train came through a crossing and slammed into it, killing six people and injuring over a dozen others.

As a National Transportation Safety Board team headed from Washington to the crash site, local officials worked to identify those killed in the deadliest accident on the country's second-busiest commuter railway - one that has come under harsh scrutiny over safety after a series of accidents in recent years. Fifteen people remained hospitalised as officials said they were, for now, mystified by the ghastly crash.

"It's really inexplicable, based on the facts we have now," Governor Andrew Cuomo said on WCBS-AM radio. "Everybody wants to know exactly what happened, so that if something can be corrected, we correct it."

Five train passengers - authorities initially said six - and the SUV's driver were killed in Tuesday evening's crash, in Valhalla, about 32km north of New York City. Authorities said the impact was so forceful the electrified third rail came up and pierced the train.

Authorities said the SUV's driver had gotten out of her vehicle momentarily after the crossing's safety gates came down around her. She then got back in and was trying to drive forward when she was hit, they said.

The northbound Metro-North Railroad train left Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan around 17:45 and struck the SUV about 45 minutes later.

It was unclear how fast the train was going, but the maximum would be 97km/h, a railway official said.

The train shoved the SUV about 10 train car lengths. Smoke poured out of the scorched front rail car, its windows blackened.

Witnesses said they saw the flames shooting from where the crash occurred, in a wooded area near a cemetery.

Ryan Cottrell, assistant director at a nearby rock climbing gym, said he had been looking out a window because of an earlier, unrelated car accident and saw the train hit the car, pushing it along.

"The flames erupted pretty quickly," he said.

Passengers described a bump and said they smelled petrol from the vehicle.

Around 650 passengers likely were aboard the train, including Justin Kaback, commuting home to Danbury, Connecticut.

"I was trapped. You know there was people in front of me and behind me, and I was trapped in the middle of a car and it was getting very hot," he told ABC 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's on fire. There's a fire.'"

Passenger Stacey Eisner, who was at the rear of the train, told NBC News that she felt the train "jerk" and then a conductor walked through the train explaining what had happened. She said her train car was evacuated about 10 minutes later using ladders to get people out.

Last March, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a stinging report on Metro-North, saying it let safety concerns slip while pushing to keep trains on time. Railway executives pledged to make safety their top priority.

Read more on:    us  |  transport

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