Investigators examining the circumstances of a New York commuter train accident that killed six people said on Wednesday they were collecting recording devices from the site where the train hit a vehicle stalled on the tracks in the railroad’s worst-ever accident.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said five passengers died in the Metro-North train crash near the suburb of White Plains on Tuesday evening, not six, as he had previously announced. The woman driving the Jeep Cherokee that the train struck while it was stuck on the tracks also died.
Fifteen other people were injured, including seven in very serious condition, the governor added.
An earlier traffic accident in the area had diverted a number of vehicles toward the crossing where the accident happened, according to Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive.
“Apparently the gate went down on the car and she got out to put the gate up and at that point got back in the car to drive away,” Astorino told reporters on Wednesday.
Astorino said he has considered the road there as dangerous, echoing complaints made by other local residents.
Snow covered the blackened front car on Wednesday at a crash scene crisscrossed with yellow police tape. Two large red lights at the crossing flashed intermittently alongside a sign stating: “Do not stop on tracks.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state-controlled agency that runs the railroad, said the crash was the deadliest accident for Metro-North, the second-largest commuter railroad in the United States.
The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates transportation accidents, plans to examine signals at the crossing, the highway that intersects the rail tracks and any issues linked to a fire ignited by the crash, according to board member Robert Sumwalt.
The fire seemed to have started after the Jeep’s gasoline tank burst, Cuomo said.
The highway signals, rail signals and the crossing arms at the intersection all have recording devices that NTSB investigators will examine, Sumwalt said in remarks to reporters at Reagan National Airport outside Washington.
Investigators are likely to be on the ground for the next five to seven days to interview witnesses and collect “perishable evidence,” Sumwalt told reporters a few hours later after arriving at the crash site.
Thousands of commuters faced a snarled journey to work on Wednesday morning in the aftermath of the accident.
MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said roughly 45,000 riders take the Metro-North Railroad’s Harlem Line on an average weekday, about 14,000 of whom board north of where the crash occurred and would be directly affected. Parts of the train line were still closed on Wednesday.
Several commuters said they were wary about riding in the front car of the train but others were unfazed, noting that trains did not seem unusually busy. Peter Greco, a risk manager at a New York City office of BNP Paribas, said the only delay he encountered was a longer line at a White Plains parking lot.
“I don’t think riding in front will bother me,” he said.
The electrified third rail pierced the Jeep and then tore through the floor of the first car of the train, officials said, charring the carriage and sending billows of smoke into the air. Damage to the other seven cars was minimal.
Some survivors walked to safety through the darkness of an adjacent cemetery, according to Nancy Dillon, who owns a nearby funeral monument store. “It was surreal, like in movies,” she said on Wednesday.
Some 650 passengers regularly take the train, which carries commuters through affluent New York City suburbs such as Westchester County, one of the richest in the United States.
Tuesday’s crash appeared to be the deadliest rail accident in the New York City area since March 1982, when a Long Island Rail Road train hit a van, killing nine teenagers inside, at a level crossing in Mineola, according to a search of NTSB databases.
A Metro-North train derailed near the northern edge of New York City in December 2013, killing four people and injuring 70. In May 2013, two Metro-North passenger trains collided between Fairfield and Bridgeport, Connecticut, injuring more than 70 people.
The NTSB released a report late last year that identified common safety issues with the railroad following probes of those accidents and three others between May 2013 and March 2014.
(Additional reporting by Bill Trott and Susan Heavey in Washington, Dan Burns in New York and Jed Horowitz aboard a Metro-North train in New York; Writing by Fiona Ortiz, Curtis Skinner and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)