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Metro North, 6 dead

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Metro North, 6 dead
Posted by wanswheel on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 8:10 PM
Excerpt from the NY Times

Six people were killed when a Metro-North railroad train struck a vehicle on the tracks in Valhalla, N.Y., in Westchester County, on Tuesday evening in a fiery crash, officials said.

The female driver of the vehicle and five passengers on the train were killed, said Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Excerpt from The Journal-News

"The gates came down on top of the vehicle, which was stopped on the tracks…The driver got out to look at the rear of the car, then she got back in and drove forward and was stuck."

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 8:21 PM

Really tragic event, with innocent passengers killed.  The photo with the article shows the (lead ?) passenger car to be an essentially burned-out hulk. 

I thought after the 1996 Amtrak - MARC collision near Silver Spring, MD, and some others, that better crashworthiness standards were enacted to prevent this kind of thing ?  Then again, didn't the dump truck-into-Amtrak crash in Nevada 3 -4 years ago also kill a number of passengers from the resulting fire ?

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Posted by NorthWest on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 8:28 PM

It appears to be the lead car. The Amtrak incident was different, in that the truck hit the side of the train. Here, the train hit the car at the front. The train is an M7, a rather recent model. I suspect that the car tangled up the third rail, and that was what started the fire.

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 8:56 PM

To clarify: I'm focusing on the fire protection and crashworthiness of the cars, not the mechanics of the various collisions.

- Paul North.

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Posted by tree68 on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 9:08 PM

That Jeep can hold 15 gallons of gas.  If any of that got inside the railcar, it would certainly provide a good start for a fire.  The car would have collision protection, but I don't know that it includes the sheet metal.  and the windows, while resistant to breakage, probably aren't up to hitting a vehicle at track speed.

I have no idea what the fire resistance specs are for the upholstery in such a car.  If they're low or non-existent, then the seats and interior coverings may well have burned like gasoline once ignited.  That's a problem we're seeing in structure fires these days.  The furnishings in modern homes might as well be made of gasoline for how quickly they burn.

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Posted by skull-48 on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 9:33 PM

Just saw the 10:00 news, and sadly, the death toll is now 7.  Eyewitness said gates were working and that the road/crossing is often used when adjacent highway is crowded.  Train was on its way to Chappiqua, a few stations south of Brewster North, the furthest electrified point on the Harlem line.

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Posted by NorthWest on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 9:45 PM

Paul North: I understand. However, the mechanics do have a lot to do with how the fire started. I am still guessing that this is a third rail caused fire, as pictures show the car in contact with it.

It has been reported elsewhere that the engineer made it out alive, which is interesting.

 

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Posted by samfp1943 on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 8:27 AM

NorthWest

Paul North: I understand. However, the mechanics do have a lot to do with how the fire started. I am still guessing that this is a third rail caused fire, as pictures show the car in contact with it.

It has been reported elsewhere that the engineer made it out alive, which is interesting.

 

 

National Media is reporting this on a number of News Programs. Here is a link provided with photo. @ http://www.lohud.com/story/news/local/westchester/2015/02/03/train-car-collide-valhalla-mass-casualties/22822737/

Apparently, five passengers perished in the resultant fire on the train ( again no mention if the train's crew perished(?)

The driver of the car was reported to have initially been caught between the crossing gates, according to the driver of the car behind the Jeep in traffic, the woman driver got out of the car, appeared to be 'disoriented' re-entered the car,  backed it off the track. then pulled back in front of the train.

 

 


 

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Posted by Euclid on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 9:47 AM
This report says that the third rail caused the fire in the first car. 
 
The reports say that the gate came down on the vehicle and the driver got out to look at it and she tried to move the gate.  Then she got back in the vehicle and pulled ahead. 
Also of interest is the information that says that calls were made earlier yesterday to report that the gates were malfunctioning at that crossing.  However, either a false activation or a failure to activate would not readily correlate with the details of this crash.  Generally, if the gate came down on the vehicle, that would have to be a case of driver error. 
However, one scenario of malfunction would correlate with the crash as follows:  A vehicle moving slowly entered the crossing with gates up and no flashers activated.  Then the gate suddenly dropped on the vehicle.  In other words, the gate dropped with no advance warning from the flashers. 
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Posted by Ulrich on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 10:42 AM

I wouldn't discount the possibility of a gate failure. I have personally encountered a malfunctioning gate on several occasions. The last time was at a malfunctioning crossing in downtown Toronto back in 2002. The gate would come down and then go back up... and THEN the train would come through. The train crews seemed to be aware of the problem as the conductor was hanging off the front end with a flag..better than nothing at all I guess. Maybe that's what happened to this lady. In my own experience mentioned above, I called CN and they had a work team on it within hours. If this can happen in downtown Toronto then I'm sure it can happen anywhere. Drivers should always ASSUME the crossing warning is malfunctioning  and look both ways even if the barrier is up! 

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Posted by Euclid on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 11:12 AM
As I recall reading, there was more than one report from the public that the crossing system was malfunctioning yesterday morning.  In this case, it seems that the gate lowered as the train approached, so that would be normal. 
Sometimes as a train approaches, gates come down on top of vehicles that have stopped in foul of the crossing because they are advancing slowly in a line of congested traffic.  If that happened, it would not indicate any malfunction.  It would be normal, and the driver would be at fault for entering the crossing with insufficient clearance on the opposite side.  In that scenario, if vehicle was stopped and fouling the gate, the flashers would normally activate first for maybe 5-10 seconds.  Then the gate would lower onto the vehicle.  That would be a case of driver error for entering the crossing with insufficient space on the opposite side.
However, if there were a malfunction in which the flashers failed to activate, and the gate came down in response to an approaching train, there would be no advance warning of the dropping gate.  If a driver were approaching at say 30-40 mph, he/she might bust through the gate because there would be no advance warning that it was going to drop.  So they would not be able to stop in time. 
However, if the driver were moving very slowly in congested traffic, entered the crossing with enough room to clear on the opposite side, and the gate came down without any pre-warning flasher activation; the gate might drop on the vehicle and the driver might stop rather than continuing and busting the gate.  That scenario fits the facts of the accident as reported.      
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Posted by petitnj on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 12:02 PM

Speculation: Since the fire was so intense, something kept it going. Gasolene would not have come into the passenger car -- the third rail did. The vehicle as it was pushed in front of the locomotive, tore the third rail from its mountings and it came up into the first passenger car. The live third rail sparked against the body of the rail car and set off the fire. As long as the third rail was hot, sparks and flames spread. 

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Posted by carnej1 on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 12:23 PM

petitnj

Speculation: Since the fire was so intense, something kept it going. Gasolene would not have come into the passenger car -- the third rail did. The vehicle as it was pushed in front of the locomotive, tore the third rail from its mountings and it came up into the first passenger car. The live third rail sparked against the body of the rail car and set off the fire. As long as the third rail was hot, sparks and flames spread. 

 

There are first person eyewitness accounts that say that the third rail did in fact penetrate the car...

 

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Posted by Jim in Fla on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 12:24 PM

The road that crosses the tracks there ends,eastbound, at a traffic light about 5-7 car lengths ahead at the Taconic Parkway.

We have a similar siruation here in Rockledge, FL with the FEC and parallel US1 where eastbound auto trafic has only a short distance between them.

The New Sunrail commuter service through Orlando has had a few train vs car crashes since it started where cars stopped on the tracks, no one killed as I recall. I guess people cannot learn that it is a bad idea to stop on the tracks and that gates come down BECAUSE A TRAIN IS COMING!

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Posted by CShaveRR on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 12:29 PM

A radio news report says that the NTSB is looking at the train now--whether it sounded its horn, how fast it was moving, etc.  What a waste--nothing will be found out of the ordinary, I suspect.

If the crossing were malfunctioning, had it been reported?  Those reports get relayed to trains on the line very quickly, and the train should have been notified to slow down.  (At least that's the way it works by us!)

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 3:13 PM

Jim in Fla
The road that crosses the tracks there ends,eastbound, at a traffic light about 5-7 car lengths ahead at the Taconic Parkway.

We have a similar siruation here in Rockledge, FL with the FEC and parallel US1 where eastbound auto trafic has only a short distance between them.

The New Sunrail commuter service through Orlando has had a few train vs car crashes since it started where cars stopped on the tracks, no one killed as I recall. I guess people cannot learn that it is a bad idea to stop on the tracks and that gates come down BECAUSE A TRAIN IS COMING!

Then a standard R8-8 "DO NOT STOP ON TRACKS" sign should have been installed there.  See the 2009 MUTCD, Chapter 8, Sec. 8B.09, about midway down the webpage, at:

http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009/part8/part8b.htm 

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 3:18 PM

What kind of malfunction was reported ?  False activation, or failure to activate ?

I could believe false activation - what with all the snow up that way in the past week or so, and salt being spread to prevent icing, that would have greatly lowered the electrical resistance between the rails and 'shunted' (connected) them, leading the signal to respond the same as if a train was nearby or approaching.

Obviously, that would have been a 'fail-safe' malfunction - it errs on the safe side, i.e., warning against vehicles crossing the tracks , as opposed to no warning at all.

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Posted by Euclid on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 3:59 PM
I have not heard anything reported that would indicate a false activation.  Since the gate came down when the train arrived, there was no failure to activate the gate.  The only question that remains is whether the flashing red lights could have failed to activate.  If they did, there would be no warning that the gate was about to come down.  Under that circumstance, it would be possible to be passing over the crossing, be struck by the descending gate, and stop because of that.  I do not believe that would violate the sign warning not to stop on the crossing. 
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Posted by oltmannd on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 6:09 PM

carnej1

 

 
petitnj

Speculation: Since the fire was so intense, something kept it going. Gasolene would not have come into the passenger car -- the third rail did. The vehicle as it was pushed in front of the locomotive, tore the third rail from its mountings and it came up into the first passenger car. The live third rail sparked against the body of the rail car and set off the fire. As long as the third rail was hot, sparks and flames spread. 

 

 

 

There are first person eyewitness accounts that say that the third rail did in fact penetrate the car...

 

 

Awful.  Just Awful.  Third rail explains the intense fire in what is otherwise a "flame-proof" coach.

NSTB will likely tie the line up for days and then recommend ejection seats passengers after a year of intense study.  I'm not hopeful anything useful will come from this.

-Don (Random stuff, mostly about trains - what else? http://blerfblog.blogspot.com/

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Posted by Speaking clock on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 6:23 PM

petitnj

Speculation: Since the fire was so intense, something kept it going. Gasolene would not have come into the passenger car -- the third rail did. The vehicle as it was pushed in front of the locomotive, tore the third rail from its mountings and it came up into the first passenger car. The live third rail sparked against the body of the rail car and set off the fire. As long as the third rail was hot, sparks and flames spread. 

 

logic:

As a scout I have some experience with fire, and I say that a spark between the third rail and a peice of metal ignited the petrol.

Once the gas fire got pretty hot, some other things like upolstery or insulation might have caught Fire and added to the heat. Anything can burn if it gets hot enough (excluring water). 

that should make sense

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Posted by MOWBill on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 6:51 PM
The camera on the train will tell us what happened...
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Posted by blue streak 1 on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 7:11 PM

Some reports indicate very heavy traffic on cross street past crossing.

Maybe SUV was unable to clear crossing?

As often said the only very good RR crossing is one that has become extinct.  ( eliminated )

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Posted by chatanuga on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 7:37 PM

Every crossing with gates that I've seen has the gates set back a little bit from the nearest track, leaving room for a single small car.  If the gate came down on the back of the SUV, she should have been okay if she'd just stayed where she was.  I'm wondering if she was preoccupied and focused on what hit her vehicle and then trying to move forward with nobody in front of her or if she thought she was too far out, panicked, and tried to get across rather than abandon the vehicle.

Kevin

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Posted by Euclid on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 8:01 PM
This article seems to have a lot of good information.  It does not sound like there was any signal failure.  There was apparently extra heavy traffic over the crossing due to a diversion around another crash earlier nearby.  The testimony of the person in the vehicle behind the struck vehicle is quite clear and detailed.
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Posted by tree68 on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 10:00 PM

chatanuga

Every crossing with gates that I've seen has the gates set back a little bit from the nearest track, leaving room for a single small car.  If the gate came down on the back of the SUV, she should have been okay if she'd just stayed where she was.  I'm wondering if she was preoccupied and focused on what hit her vehicle and then trying to move forward with nobody in front of her or if she thought she was too far out, panicked, and tried to get across rather than abandon the vehicle.

In reading about similar incidents in the past, it appears that too many people (maybe most of them) regard the gates as they would a rock wall - immovable - which is not the case.  The gates are made to swing or break away if forced.

Throw in the fear of scratching or denting one's Rolls Kanardly and it makes sense why people don't just drive out of the situation (assuming they have room in front or behind them).

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Posted by Deggesty on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 10:15 PM

Yup--no scratch, no dent--just no car.

Johnny

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 10:22 PM

tree68

 

 
chatanuga

Every crossing with gates that I've seen has the gates set back a little bit from the nearest track, leaving room for a single small car.  If the gate came down on the back of the SUV, she should have been okay if she'd just stayed where she was.  I'm wondering if she was preoccupied and focused on what hit her vehicle and then trying to move forward with nobody in front of her or if she thought she was too far out, panicked, and tried to get across rather than abandon the vehicle.

 

In reading about similar incidents in the past, it appears that too many people (maybe most of them) regard the gates as they would a rock wall - immovable - which is not the case.  The gates are made to swing or break away if forced.

Throw in the fear of scratching or denting one's Rolls Kanardly and it makes sense why people don't just drive out of the situation (assuming they have room in front or behind them).

 

Recived instructions to put out a 'Stop & Flag Order' on a crossing because a OSP stated the gates 'just came down on their own and scratched the top of my car' - and a train went through the crossing seconds later.

Call should have been answered requesting name and address to send the driving citation to.

Signal personnel checked out the crossing a hour after the report and it was found to be operating as intended.

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Posted by Euclid on Thursday, February 5, 2015 12:12 PM
 
According the news link I posted above, the driver stopped short of the track, but under the gate.  The gate came down on her vehicle.  She got out and looked at it.  The driver behind her backed up to give her room to back out from under the gate.  The driver of the car under the gate got back into her vehicle, but instead of backing up, she drove forward and was hit by the train. 
Since the driver was stopped when the gate came down, I assume that slow moving, heavy traffic was holding her back.  Since she decided to move forward instead of backing into the clear, I assume that the blocking traffic ahead had cleared enough for her to cross the track. 
There is a sign there that says “Do Not Stop on Track.”  But she did not stop on the track.  She stopped short of the track, but under the gate. 
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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, February 5, 2015 12:35 PM

I am going to make an assumption - the driver was a 'local' and had been using this crossing for years.

Some people take the 'do not stop on tracks' sign literally and will stop just shy of the rail and get the surprise of their life (and most likely the last surprise).  Stopping clear of tracks really means stopping behind the crossing protection.

There is no acceptable excuse for the drivers actions, as attested to by the following driver.

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Posted by ACY Tom on Thursday, February 5, 2015 12:55 PM

Speculation is always an iffy proposition, but I wonder whether she might have thought she was in reverse when she moved forward onto the track.  I'm sure we'll never know. 

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