The design of the New York region’s Metro-North Railroad power supply is among the reasons a 2015 accident between a train and a vehicle was so deadly, U.S. investigators are poised to conclude.
The National Transportation Safety Board is preparing to find Tuesday that the puzzling decision by a woman to drive into the path of a commuter train caused the deadliest accident in Metro-North’s history, and the death toll was exacerbated by the way the system was built, according to an official briefed on the conclusions. The official wasn’t authorized to release the information and asked not to be identified.
The NTSB is scheduled in a hearing Tuesday in Washington to approve the accident conclusions, recommendations to prevent such accidents in the future and a final report. The conclusions can be altered by the board and may change, the official warned.
The northbound train ferrying commuters home from New York City struck a Mercedes-Benz sport-utility vehicle. The collision created unusual violence as massive lengths of an electrified third rail running parallel to the train were lifted upward by the crumpled vehicle and flung one after another into the rail cars, akin to giant lethal spears.
Eleven sections of the third rail measuring a total of 343 feet (105 meters) penetrated the train, reaching as far as the second car and crushing passengers, according to NTSB. Five people in the train died from the impacts. The collision also caused the train to catch fire.
New York Victims
Among those killed was Eric Vandercar, 53, a senior managing director in institutional sales and trading at Mesirow Financial in New York. Others who died included Joseph Nadol, a 42-year-old JPMorgan Chase & Co. executive, and Walter Liedtke, 69, the curator in European paintings for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Ellen Brody, a 49-year-old mother of three from Scarsdale who also died, had been caught in traffic when the train approached and the gates at the crossing came down on her car, according to witnesses. She got out of her car, returned to the vehicle and then tried to drive forward. The train hit her from the right side as she rolled onto the tracks.
The driver behind her told investigators he had backed up when the gates came down to make room for her and motioned for her to follow.
Even though the train engineer was traveling below the speed limit and hit the emergency brakes, the impact carried the car 665 feet.
The third rail sits just to the side of the main rails and carries power to the electric locomotives on Metro-North’s network. Unlike almost every other railroad using a third rail, it connects to the train with a device that runs along the bottom of the rail. As a result, when the third rail ends at an intersection, it curves slightly upward so that the train’s connectors can easily make contact again.
When the train drove Brody’s car into the third rail, the steel bars entered her car and were guided upward until they entered the first rail car, according to previously released NTSB records.
The accident investigators now believe that the third rail should have been designed in such a way that it would break apart rather than holding together as the train pushed into hundreds of feet of the steel bars, according to the official.
The NTSB hasn’t been able to find a compelling reason why Brody, who wasn’t impaired or distracted by an electronic device, would have driven into the train’s path, according to the official.