When a crowded commuter train slammed into a car on the tracks on Tuesday night, it dislodged the electrified third rail, which, combined with gasoline from the vehicle, created a deadly inferno, federal investigators said at a news conference Wednesday evening.
“The entire interior of the first rail car was burned out,” said Robert L. Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.
The result was the most deadly accident in the history of the Metro-North Railroad, with six people killed and more than a dozen injured after the collision in Valhalla, in Westchester County.
Even as investigators worked to understand why a car became stranded on the tracks, Mr. Sumwalt offered some explanation for why the accident was so deadly.
He said the train plowed the car 1,000 feet down the tracks and, as it went along, tore up 400 feet of electrified rail.
That rail, he said, first penetrated the car “behind and below the driver’s seat” and exited the car by the right rear tire. It then pierced the train, breaking up in 80-foot segments. At least one of those segments penetrated the second rail car.
But he said many questions remained unanswered. Specifically, he said, in these types of accidents, train passengers are rarely killed.
“Usually it is not endangering the occupants of the train,” he said. “We intend to find out what makes this accident different.”
Mr. Sumwalt said it also remained unclear why the S.U.V. was on...
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