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NTSB Focuses On Train Wreck Damage, Calling Passenger Fatalities Very Rare

A videotape of Wednesday's NTSB press briefing.
A videotape of Wednesday's NTSB press briefing. Video Credit: ntsbgov
National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt described how the third, electrified rail entered Ellen Brody's Mercedes, and then the first two Metro-North railcars, causing a deadly fire. Photo Credit: Jon Craig
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and State Sen. Terrence Murphy said they will seek safety improvements at the Commerce Street rail crossing. Murphy of Jefferson Valley also praised first repsonders at Wednesday's news conference. Photo Credit: Jon Craig
Wednesday's news conference in Tarrytown attracted more than 100 reporters and camera crews. Photo Credit: Jon Craig

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- Federal National Transportation Safety Board officials spent Wednesday examining the wreckage of Tuesday's Metro-North train-car collision to determine why it resulted in six fatalities.

NTSB Board member Robert Sumwalt said that during the next five to seven days, its railroad safety experts will try to determine:

* Why was Ellen Brody's Mercedes-Benz SUV on the track when the express train passed through at about 60 mph.

* Why did the accident result in train passenger fatalities?

Leading the search for those answers is Sumwalt.

"We are examining the strength of the railcars,'' he said. "We certainly think grade crossing accidents can be prevented,'' Sumwalt said during a news conference at the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown. "Does this rail crossing comply with federal requirements? What made this accident different?"

Sumwalt said the investigation will include interviews with the Metro-North train's engineer, conductor and other train employees Thursday and Friday.

Also important, he said, is determining the sight distance on the track for the train's engineer as well as for Brody, whose SUV was apparently trapped between two railroad crossing gates before she pulled forward onto the track about 6:30 p.m.

Sumwalt said that the NTSB determined on Wednesday that the third, electrified rail penetrated the chassis of Brody's Mercedes behind the driver's seat over the right rear tire. The electrified rail then entered the first railcar near its front wheels, he said, causing the railcar's interior to be completely charred. Sumwalt said that as the Mercedes was pushed about 1,000 feet by the train -- about 400 feet of the third rail was pulled apart in 80-foot sections.

Sumwalt said that the electric rail is designed to shut off in such emergency situations. The NSTB aims to find out if it did, since the electricity, which caused a major fire fueled by the gas in the Mercedes, likely led to fatalities. He said one broken section of third rail also penetrated the second railcar.

Finally, Sumwalt said the NTSB will download and analyze all available data from gate crossings, traffic signals, individual railcars and even the Mercedes if such data is retrievable.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, meanwhile, said that he is working with state officials to improve safety at the Commerce Street intersection. As someone who drives through its intersection with the Taconic State Parkway nearly daily, Astorino called it a confusing intersection.

Astorino said most families of the train accident victims have been in touch with the county Medical Examiner's Office and MTA police to help identify their loved ones' remains.

The identities of the five train passengers killed were confirmed on Wednesday.

The driver of the SUV killed in the collision was 49-year-old Ellen Brody of Edgemont.

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