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NTSB Braces For Long Investigation Into Fatal Metro-North Crash

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Kristin Poland sets up 3D Laser Scanner to create model of the damaged rail car.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Kristin Poland sets up 3D Laser Scanner to create model of the damaged rail car. Photo Credit: NTSB

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. – More than 450 feet of the third rail pierced through Metro-North train car 659 after it struck a Mercedes SUV in Valhalla on Tuesday.

According to National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt, a dozen 39-foot sections of the third rail penetrated the first railcar underneath a side passenger door, with one piece piercing through the back of the train and into the second car.

The train was travelling at 58 mph – under the legal speed limit in that location - on Tuesday when Engineer Steve Smalls slammed on the emergency brake mechanism at 6:26:17 p.m., several hundred feet from the vehicle. Approximately four seconds after the brakes were activated, and warning sirens sounded, the train collided, travelling another 650 feet before coming to a halt less than 30 seconds later.

At the time of the collision, the train was travelling 48 miles per hour. By the time it came to a complete stop, there were areas of the first car that had sections of the third rail piled from floor to ceiling.

Sumwalt noted that preliminary train maintenance records show that “circuit breakers were opened immediately after the accident, and personnel at the dispatch center sent an open command to ensure that the third rail was de-energized."

The NTSB was also able to obtain some preliminary data about the driver of the vehicle that was struck, Ellen Brody, who was put to rest by friends and family on Friday.

“We know the driver had a valid license, and we’re told the accident location was not along her usual route from work,” Sumwalt said. “The car was a 2011 Mercedes ML 350 that was registered in December of 2014. The vehicle had electric gear shift selector and has a New York State inspection conducted in December 2014. We’ve requested those records.”

From here, NTSB investigators will continue collecting tangible “perishable” evidence as they keep poring over the scene, train car and SUV. On Friday, they began using 3D scanning laser technology to create virtual models and to recreate the accident. There will be models made of the interior and exterior of the train, the SUV and the crossing itself.

Sumwalt cautioned that the investigation is only days into what could be a several weeks long project to “conduct a thorough investigation, to determine the facts surrounding them and determine probable cause.”

“We’re in just the very beginning stages of the investigation,” he said. “There’s a lot that needs to be done, but also a lot that has been done. Our investigative team will continue to stay another several days collecting information, then they will go back to Washington and continue.” 

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