Investigators Say Poor Rail Design Led to Deaths in 2015 New York Train Crash

nyc train accident

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Federal safety regulators spent two years investigating an accident between a Metro-North Railroad car and an SUV that occurred February 3, 2015.

The crash killed the driver of the SUV and five people on the train, making it the deadliest accident in the history of the rail line.

After the investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board is still stumped as to why the women stopped her SUV on the train crossing, which was well marked. The official report states that she acted for “undetermined reasons” after investigators analyzed everything from potential distractions to the volume of the train whistle.

However, investigators also say the accident ended up being deadlier than it needed to be because of a poor design of the system’s electrified third rail. The power supply design made its steel bars into deadly spears. Upon collision, these long bars from the third rail running parallel to the train were pushed upward by the crumpled SUV and were shot into the rail cars.

Eleven sections of these bars in total, which accounted for a total of 345 pieces of metal, shot through the train into the second car, crushing several passengers. That’s what caused the deaths of five people and injuries to nine others inside the train.

Making sense of the SUV driver’s actions

The investigation leaves many unanswered questions. The husband of the woman who stopped on the tracks claims the visibility at the intersection of the road and the rail was poor due to curvature of the road, and that warning signs at the crossing should have been more visible to motorists.

Witnesses say the woman had been stuck in traffic in what her husband says was an unfamiliar area, when the rail crossing gates came down on her vehicle. She initially got out of the vehicle, but then returned to it and attempted to drive forward. Had she either run away or even just stayed where she was, it’s likely the collision would have been less severe. Instead, the train struck the vehicle from the right when the woman drove forward onto the tracks.

Investigators also determined that the woman was not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, was well rested, had not been using a cell phone or other device and almost certainly did not accidentally drive forward when she meant to go backward. The only plausible theory investigators have is that her indecision about whether to leave the vehicle or try to pull forward through the barrier is what gave her less reaction time and ultimately made the accident so deadly.

Meanwhile, the train was traveling below its speed limit and the engineer hit the emergency brakes, but the impact still carried it more than 650 feet.

If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident on a train or other form of public transportation, consult a dedicated New York personal injury attorney with Robinson & Yablon, P.C.

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