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Multiple Metro-North Railroad Crashes Raise Issues of Safety

Farren Washington2 years ago

A fiery, fatal commuter-train collision Tuesday near New York was Metro-North Railroad's sixth accident at a road crossing in less than four years. The accident is now raising questions as to whether more should be done to enhance the safety of such intersections.

Description of Metro-North Accident

According to Chicago-Tribune, five people aboard the train were killed on Tuesday night after it struck a Jeep Cherokee that was stuck in a rail crossing north of the Valhalla station. It is considered to be the deadliest accident in Metro-North Railroad's history. 

The incident had occurred at about 6:30 p.m. in Westchester County, a suburb about 28 miles north of Midtown Manhattan. The Jeep Cherokee got caught in a major traffic jam, and couldn't clear the vehicle from the tracks in time before the gates came down. The train was traveling about 60 miles per hour, struck the trapped vehicle, triggering a massive explosion.

 Investigators reviewing the workings of the rail crossing found that the warning lights, the alarm and the gate arms were all functioning at the time of the crash. The Metropolitan Transit Authority will look further into whether the gates at the crossing were working properly, or if a curve in the track prevented the engineer from stopping the train. 

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of investigators to the scene early Wednesday. The team will be at Westchester County for about in a week, and determining a cause may take as long as a year.

Possible Solutions to Prevent Future Accidents

Cars are struck by trains regularly across the country, according to Federal Railroad Administration records. Since 2006, there has been an average of 2,261 rail crossing accidents a year and an average of 273 deaths a year.

The National Transportation Safety Board declared in 2012 that more advance warnings were needed in the United States. That followed a tragic incident in Midland, Texas where a parade float was hit by a freight train as it attempted to cross the tracks. Four people died and 12 were injured. The NTSB ruled that the city and the organizers of the parade were at fault because they failed to take adequate safety precautions.

One possible solution may be to install automatic rail safety devices known as positive train control. The devices include sensors that spot an obstruction in an intersection and automatically slow or stop the train. 

The NTSB recommended that the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration collaborate with local governments to provide more advance warning of a train approaching at a grade crossing. The administration stated in a May 1, 2013, letter to the NTSB that they were still working on it.

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