The vehicle that was struck by a commuter train is lifted from the tracks in Mount Pleasant, near Valhalla, New York, February 4, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]
MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. - 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 driver of 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.
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 with the fire, according to board member Robert Sumwalt.
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.
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 line will remain closed on Wednesday, according to the MTA.
Several commuters said they were wary about riding in the front car of the train but others were unfazed. Peter Greco, a risk manager at a New York City office of BNP Paribas, said the only delays 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.
"The third rail stops at the grade crossing, and so that's where the contact with the automobile was made," Thomas Prendergast, the MTA's chairman, told reporters at the scene late on Tuesday.
Media reports said the driver of the Jeep got out briefly to try to push it off the tracks, then got back in before it was hit by the train.
"It appears that the gasoline tank on the car burst and that started the fire," Cuomo said, adding that the fire consumed the car and the front train carriage.
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.
Westchester is home to many bankers, doctors and corporate lawyers, boasts a median household income of roughly $82,000, and houses the headquarters of major companies including IBM and PepsiCo Inc.
Tuesday's crash is the latest in a string of accidents involving Metro-North trains in recent years.
One derailed near the northern edge of New York City on Dec 1, 2013, killing four people and injuring 70. It was traveling nearly three times the speed limit for the section of track where it crashed, investigators said.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino made a distinction between that crash, which was the result of a train employee error, and Tuesday's accident. But he said the latest accident was still under investigation.
In May 2013, two Metro-North passenger trains collided between Fairfield and Bridgeport, Connecticut, injuring more than 70 people and halting services.
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.