Commuter trains rolled again on Thursday through the site of a fiery collision between a train and an SUV that killed six people in suburban New York, and federal investigators went back to work trying to pin down the details of the crash.
Authorities warned commuters on the Metro-North system who travel through the site of the crash, in the hamlet of Valhalla, to expect delays as they resumed full service for the first time since the collision on Tuesday night.
Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board told reporters on Wednesday that investigators had downloaded data from a recording device on the train.
It should help investigators determine how fast the train was traveling when it slammed into the SUV, which was on the tracks at a crossing and exploded on impact, setting the front of the train on fire.
“The big question everyone wants to know is: Why was this vehicle in the crossing?” Sumwalt said.
Investigators still want to interview the engineer and conductor. The collision pushed the SUV 1,000 feet down the tracks, yanked the electrified third rail out of the ground and drove it like a spike through the floor of the first car of the train.
The driver of the SUV, Ellen Brody, 49, was killed, as were five people on the train. Rick Hope, who was behind the SUV, said that the crossing gate came down and hit the roof of the SUV, then got stuck on the back.
“There was no one behind me, so I backed up to make sure she had room. I thought she would back up, too,” he told the news site LoHud.com, “but she got out of her car, walked back, and was touching the gate.”
He said that Brody “looked directly at me,” then got back into her car. He said that he backed up to give her room and thought that she would back out of the crossing. Instead, he said, she shifted her car into drive.
“As soon as it began to move forward, the train hit,” he said. “There was a terrible crunching sound, and just like that, the car was gone. Disappeared. It happened instantly. There’s no way she could have known what hit her.”
Eight people remained hospitalized, with injuries that included burns, smoke inhalation, broken bones, cuts and bruises.
Among those killed on the train were Walter Liedtke, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Eric Vandercar, a senior managing director at Mesirow Financial; and Robert Dirks, a research scientist and father of two.
Dirks’ father, Michael, told NBC News that his son was “all a father could ever want. A father and a mother. And having had him in my life for 36 years was a joy, an absolute great joy.”
— Erin McClam