In­ves­ti­ga­tors don’t know why driver wound up on rail tracks

The Western Star - - World - BY COLLEEN LONG

Fed­eral safety in­ves­ti­ga­tors haven’t been able to de­ter­mine why the driver of an SUV drove her car into a rail­road cross­ing and into the path of an on­com­ing train, caus­ing a crash that killed six peo­ple out­side New York City in 2015.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board met Tues­day in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to de­tail the re­sults of a two-and-a-half year in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the crash at a cross­ing in the town of Val­halla.

The im­pact sparked an ex­plo­sion, and flames blasted into the pas­sen­ger area, burn­ing out the first car of the train. The driver of the SUV and five peo­ple aboard the train were killed. More than a dozen oth­ers were in­jured.

NTSB in­ves­ti­ga­tors found that the SUV’s driver, Ellen Brody, wasn’t on the phone, im­paired or fa­tigued. Brody drove onto the tracks and when the gate arm came down onto her SUV, she got out and in­spected the ve­hi­cle be­fore get­ting back in and driv­ing fur­ther onto the tracks.

Chair­man Robert Sumwalt said her ac­tions were the great mys­tery of the crash.

“There are nu­mer­ous pos­si­bil­i­ties which may have con­trib­uted to why she got out of the car, why she did not re­al­ize the train was ap­proach­ing,” he said. “We ex­am­ined ev­ery pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion and cir­cum­stance and we could not ar­rive at a def­i­nite con­clu­sion.”

He said it was im­pos­si­ble to know what was in Brody’s mind, but he hy­poth­e­sized that she had been inch­ing along in traf­fic, watch­ing the car in front of her, and wasn’t aware that the she had driven into a rail­road cross­ing.

“I don’t think she re­al­ized where she was,” he said. “I think it was just a loss of sit­u­a­tional aware­ness.”

Mean­while, the en­gi­neer no­ticed some­thing on the tracks and pulled the emer­gency brake when he no­ticed the SUV in the path.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors found all the sig­nals were work­ing prop­erly; the brakes worked and were pulled on time; the warn­ing signs at the cross­ing worked and were prop­erly marked; the train wasn’t speed­ing; the en­gi­neer wasn’t fa­tigued or dis­tracted; the track wasn’t faulty; and the emer­gency exit windows worked.

But the de­sign of the third rail pro­vid­ing power to the train also played a role, they said. They said the rail stayed in one piece, like a 340-foot-long spear, rather than break apart when it was ripped from the ground. The rail then sliced through a pas­sen­ger car on the train, con­tribut­ing to the death toll.

NTSB in­ves­ti­ga­tors said the lack of a con­trolled fail­ure mech­a­nism in third rail sys­tems was a po­ten­tial safety prob­lem. It rec­om­mended that rail­ways that use third rails eval­u­ate the safety risks at grade cross­ings.

The As­so­ci­ated Press, re­ly­ing on in­for­ma­tion from an of­fi­cial briefed on the NTSB’s find­ings, re­ported Mon­day that in­ves­ti­ga­tors had also raised con­cerns with the un­usual third rail de­sign in which power is trans­ferred to the train via a metal shoe rid­ing be­neath the pow­ered rail. NTSB of­fi­cials said at the Wash­ing­ton brief­ing, how­ever, that they had found no is­sues with that par­tic­u­lar sys­tem.

NTSB in­ves­ti­ga­tors rec­om­mended risk as­sess­ments also be con­ducted for grade cross­ings. The town of Mount Pleas­ant where the crash oc­curred was weigh­ing whether to close the cross­ing al­to­gether.

But also, driv­ers must al­ways be aware on rail­road cross­ings, they said.

“There is a les­son driv­ers must learn, a les­son that has trag­i­cally been taught time and time again. The next train is al­ways com­ing . ... Do not get trapped on the tracks,” Sumwalt said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.