VALHALLA, N.Y. –Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived on the scene of Tuesday’s fatal Metro North accident. Six people died Tuesday evening when a full Metro North commuter train collided with a Jeep Cherokee in Westchester County, New York.
Robert Sumwalt of the NTSB, said the investigators arrived around 11 a.m. The NTSB brought in experts in signals railroad and traffic, railroad crossing gates, recorders, fire science, mechanical conditions, Sumwalt said. The NTSB will be on scene for five to seven days collecting “perishable evidence.” Perishable evidence is the information that can go away with the passage of time, such as witness testimony.
The next live update from the NTSB will happen at 5 p.m.
Sumwalt said the first thing the NTSB will do is to get a look at the wreckage and walking through the first car. They have asked for aerial footage. A 3D laser scanning device is being brought in to scan wreckage and they will use it to methodically inspect all cars. The train will likely be moved to storage facility later this afternoon.
Any witnesses with information are asked to contact NTSB at Witness@NTSB.GOV
Sumwalt said interviewing the crew is a very high priority. He also says they understand that those crew members have dealt with a lot of trauma. They expect to interview them within a 24-48 hour time frame.
The Engineer and conductor survived the crash and will be key to investigation, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said in an update Wednesday morning.
“The inside of that first car is melted and charred with the third rail going through it,” Astorino said.
According to the NTSB, there are train event recorders that have already been secured. The recorders will tell train speed, whistle indications, brake applications, horn sounding etc. There are event recorders on train signals themselves. All have been secured and will be looked at Wednesday.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo originally said seven people died Tuesday night, but Wednesday morning, Metro North revised that number to say six people have died in the crash. Late Tuesday night, Astorino confirmed 12 people were also injured–10 of them are in serious condition.
Five of those killed were train passengers and one was the driver of the Jeep.
The investigation is ongoing, but the accident appears to be the Jeep driver’s fault, Astorino said.
The 5:44 p.m. northbound Harlem line train from Grand Central Terminal struck the black Jeep at the Commerce Street crossing in Valhalla at about 7 p.m.
Authorities said the Jeep was caught on the tracks when the railroad gates came down. The driver briefly exited her vehicle, then got back inside and attempted to drive through the gates. She could not get off the tracks in time, and the train collided with her jeep.
Passengers reported smelling gasoline and feeling the train jerk. They were ushered to the back of the train and evacuated, some getting out using ladders or by breaking windows.
The collision, however, was so forceful that the electrified third rail came up off the track and pierced through the train. The front car burst into flames.
“It was truly a devastatingly ugly situation to see,” Cuomo said.
“It must’ve been an absolutely horrific scene when that first happened,” Astorino said. “I am amazed that anyone got off that train.”
An estimated 650 people were on board the train. Everyone who was evacuated was picked up by bus and taken to other stations.
Metro-North Harlem Line service between Pleasantville and North White Plains has been suspended until further notice.
Metro-North New Haven Line service is operating as normal Wednesday.