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The National Transportation Safety Board stopped short of conclusions Monday about who bears responsibility for a collision between a commuter train and an SUV that killed six people in suburban New York earlier this month.
A preliminary report served as the agency's first draft of an official narrative of the crash, which remains under investigation.
The collision happened just before 6:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 3 at a crossing in Valhalla, New York, where a northbound Metro-North train carrying about 650 people approached a traffic crossing, the report said. It was 20 degrees, with light wind, clear skies and good visibility.
As the train barreled north at 58 mph, the SUV stopped on the tracks. About 300 feet away, the train's engineer sounded a horn and hit the emergency brakes, both in accordance with operating rules, the report said.
At the crossing, warning lights went on, and warning gates closed on the back of the SUV. Witnesses recalled watching the the driver — identified by family and friends as 49-year-old mother Ellen Brody — get out, look at the back of the car, get back in, then begin to drive forward. Four seconds elapsed between when the engineer hit the brakes and the impact, data collected from the train's "event recorder" showed. By then, the train had slowed to 49 mph.
The collision triggered a fire that consumed the SUV and the lead rail car, which held about 20 passengers, the report said. The eight-car train pushed the SUV north and damaged the electrified third rail, which detached, pierced the SUV and continued into the first car. The train and SUV came to rest about 650 feet from the crossing. Twelve sections of the third rail, each 39 feet long, were found inside the first passenger railcar. Brody and five passengers died, and many more were injured.
The NTSB will conduct a metals examination of the third rail, and take samples from the lead rail car's interior for compliance with fire protection standards, the report said. Metro-North estimated the damage at $3.7 million.