NTSB: Driver caused deadly Valhalla train accident

Posted: Updated:

The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that "driver error" caused the Feb. 3, 2015 train collision that was the deadliest crash in MTA history.

NTSB investigators say that Ellen Brody, of Edgemont, drove her Mercedes SUV onto the tracks in Valhalla. The findings show that the warning gate came down on her car. The 49-year-old got out to inspect the damage and then got back in her car. However, instead of reversing off the tracks, she drove forward, and that's when the northbound Harlem line train struck the vehicle. “Fatigue, medical issues, and cellphone use were excluded as factors in the crash.  Based on sound tests, the driver of the SUV should have been able to hear the train horn as the train approached. Active train warnings, including flashing lights and train horn, did not influence the driver's behavior,” says senior NTSB investigator Dan Walsh.

The 30-month investigation says the warning system at the Commerce Street rail crossing where the accident occurred was working properly the night six people were killed and did not contribute to the crash. They also found the performance of the train's engineer did not contribute to the crash.

The report does blame the unique design of the electrified third rail for contributing to the death and injury toll in the crash. About 340 feet of rail was pulled up and penetrated the SUV's fuel tank and sliced into the train. It was not constructed to break away under crash conditions, and the NTSB is suggesting the MTA look at that design. Metro-North is believed to be the only railroad where the contact rides underneath the third rail instead of on top.

NTSB investigators made six recommendations to prevent another accident like this from happening again, including suggesting the MTA conduct a risk assessment of all highway railroad grade crossings that have third rail systems.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates Metro-North, said it would closely review any safety recommendations made by the NTSB. 

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