(VALHALLA, N.Y.) — At least seven people were killed when a crowded Metro-North commuter train hit a vehicle on the tracks north of White Plains, New York, Tuesday night, sparking a fire that gutted the lead car of the train, officials said.
Among the dead were at least six passengers on the train and the driver of the black Jeep Cherokee that was struck and dragged at about ten car lengths, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other officials said late Tuesday evening.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said the gates came down on top of the SUV at the crossing, 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 struck.
A driver who said he saw the train hit the car described the incident in the same way.
“The gate came down and hit the back of the car in front of me, it was an SUV and it caught the roof, it bounced off the roof, and then slid a little bit behind the back window,” Rick Hope said.
Passengers were evacuated to the back of the Harlem Line train, then were taken to a local rock-climbing gym for shelter, the Cliffs. Buses were en route there to get them to Pleasantville, a spokesperson for the railroad said.
At least 12 other passengers were injured and taken to area hospitals. The train left New York’s Grand Central Station at 5:44 p.m., and the collision occurred at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Aerial video of the scene showed the head car of the train in flames and at least one vehicle crushed beneath it. The vehicle was struck at the Commerce St. grade crossing in Hawthorne.
Harlem Line Service was temporarily suspended between North White Plains and Pleasantville, the railroad tweeted.
More than 750 passengers were estimated to be on board, including Justin Kaback, commuting home to Danbury, Connecticut.
“I was trapped. You know, there was people in front of me and behind me and I was trapped in the middle of a car and it was getting very hot,” he told ABC News. “All the air was turned off so there was no circulation so it was definitely scary, especially when people are walking by on the outside and they said, the train’s on fire, there’s a fire.”
— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) February 4, 2015
The National Transportation Safety Board in November issued a special investigation report on five Metro-North Railroad accidents between May 2013 and March 2014 that killed a total of six people and injured 126. They found “safety management problems” in all the accidents.
“Metro-North and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have much work yet to do,” NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart said in a statement at the time. “The FRA has much work to do as well. Railroad safety across the country depends on the FRA turning decisively to the task.”
Metro-North safety programs that were in place were not effectively used to manage the safety of its operations and employees, the NTSB said. And, Metro-North did not effectively investigate accidents and incidents to identify and fix safety deficiencies while known deficiencies were not corrected.
A December 2013 derailment in the Bronx killed four people on the railroad, which is the second-busiest commuter line in the country behind the Long Island Railroad.
The NTSB tweeted on Tuesday night that it was launching a team to investigate the deadly crash.
NTSB launching go team to investigate Metro North crash this evening in Westchester County NY
— NTSB (@NTSB) February 4, 2015
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