Few motor vehicle accidents are as devastating as a collision where one of the motor vehicles is a train. Because of their size, mass and speed, even 80,000-pound tractor-trailers are reduced to scrap metal when they are struck by a train.
Lawmakers in Connecticut this week were asking questions regarding what could be done to ensure that commuters trains running through the state do not become involved in a deadly crash like that which occurred in Valhalla, New York.
The Metro-North train struck a SUV in a grade crossing, killing the driver and five passengers on the train when the gasoline in the SUV apparently triggered a massive fire that burned the first carriage of the train.
Fatal accidents involving vehicles on grade crossing are a common occurrence throughout the U.S. Typically train personnel and passengers suffer few injuries due to the massive disparities in size between passenger cars, truck and trains.
This accident was unusual in that the third-rail of the train was lifted and entered the rail cars. The third-rail provides the electric power that is used to operate the train. It may have contributed to the fire that engulfed the SUV and train after the collision.
Connecticut officials noted that there are no third-rails in use on North-Metro’s Connecticut lines. The New Haven also lacks grade crossings, so this type of accident would be unlikely here. Other lines running to Waterbury, Danbury and New Canaan do have grade crossing on some streets, and could strike vehicles.
It is unclear why the driver of the SUV failed to exit the grade crossing, but crashes have occurred where motorists intentionally go around crossing gates.
One representative suggested that the state should examine eliminating all grade crossings, as that is virtually the only means certain to prevent grade crossing accidents.
Courant.com, “State Lawmakers Seek Ways To Prevent Train Wrecks,” Don Stacom and Christopher Keating, February 4, 2015