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Reassessing Metro-North Train Crash and Third Rail Injuries

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Commuter Trains Remain Subject of Safety Concerns for New Yorkers After New York Train Accident

As a recent article in the Westchester Journal News reports, it is the fourth anniversary of a deadly New York train accident that resulted in the deaths of multiple passengers when the third rail “came up through the floor.” Five passengers sustained fatal injuries and nine additional passengers suffered nonfatal injuries as a result of this train crash. The train accident occurred in February of 2015 when a Metro-North train collided with an SUV at a crossing in Valhalla, about an hour north of New York City.

The train crash happened just after 6 p.m. on a weekday, shortly after a winter storm. The train conductor saw an SUV stuck on the tracks and tried to brake, but the train crashed into the passenger vehicle. As the article explains, after the train collided with the SUV, “the electrified third rail on the west side of the track detached, piercing the fuel tank in [the] SUV before cutting into the lead railcar.”

Why are people still talking about this New York train accident? In short, train injury lawsuits have arisen as a result of the third rail design, alleging that the third rail was faulty or defective. Since the train accident in NYC in 2015, the design of the third rail has not changed.

A third rail provides electric power to a train. Sometimes third rails are associated with electric shock injuries, but as the Metro-North train accident in NYC underscores, they can also cause deadly injuries if they become detached in a train crash. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) indicated in a final report that “the third rail design led to the loss of life.”

More specifically, the NTSB reported that “Metro-North’s third rail assembly catastrophically compromised a passenger railcar with fatal consequences.” The NTSB report went on to explain how “Metro-North’s third rail system penetrated the passenger compartment and broke apart at the splice bars.” Recognizing the potential for similar fatal injuries in the event of a train crash like the one that occurred in 2015, the NTSB recommended that Metro-North “conduct risk assessments for all grade crossings that have third rail systems and following through with corrections to minimize such risks.”

In the train accident near NYC, sparks from the third rail pierced the train car and started a fire. In the train lawsuit, families of the people killed in the train crash argue that the third rail should be designed so that it will break or fall apart in the event of a crash. In other words, it should be designed so that if a train crash occurs, it cannot pierce a train car and cause multiple fatal injuries.

Learning More About Train Crash Safety

While train crashes are not nearly as common as motor vehicle collisions, they do occur. What can passengers, pedestrians, and motor vehicle occupants do to stay safe? A fact sheet from Operation Lifesaver recommends the following train safety tips:

  • Always be alert anytime you are near train tracks;
  • Never sit on the edge of a train platform;
  • Always stand at least three feet away from the edge of the train platform;
  • Sit or hold tightly to something when you are on the train;
  • Be careful of the gap between the train and the platform;
  • Abide by all safety signs;
  • Never cross train tracks unless there are signs indicating that it is safe to cross; and
  • Avoid using your cell phone or headphones when you are near train tracks or are waiting for a train because you may not be able to hear a safety horn.

If someone you love was injured in a train accident in NYC or elsewhere, you should discuss your case with a train accident lawyer.

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