NTSB: Third rail made 2015 Metro-North crash deadlier

Wednesday, July 26, 2017
NTSB: Third rail design made 2015 Metro-North crash deadlier
Jim Hoffer has the latest on the NTSB's findings in the 2015 Metro-North crash.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The cause of the deadly Metro-North derailment in Westchester County more than two years ago was caused by a mother from Scarsdale who drove onto the train tracks.

The NTSB made that finding official Tuesday.

They also found that a design flaw on the electrified third rail made this crash deadlier than it should have been.

7 On Your Side Investigates Reporter Jim Hoffer uncovered the third rail problems after the crash.

Two-and-a-half years of investigating and the NTSB findings leave plenty of unanswered questions about the deadliest crash in Metro-North's history.

"Findings adopted, say yes," the NTSB Safety Board said in the meeting.

While the Safety Board agreed that Scarsdale mother Ellen Brody for "undetermined reasons" caused the crash when she drove her SUV onto the tracks, board members could not agree why she did it nor why she got out of her car after the crossing gate came down.

"Staff spent considerable time trying to understand motivations and found many of these facts unknowable because she perished in this accident," said Robert Hall, NTSB Investigator.

The Acting Chair failed in his attempt to get "loss of situational awareness" added to the cause which he believes led Ellen Brody to end up on the tracks.

"I think she didn't realize where she was. I think it was just a loss of situational awareness," said Robert Sumwalt, Acting NTSB Chair.

While the NTSB blames Brody for crossing onto the tracks, they also concluded that Metro-North's third-rail with its sharp ends contributed to the high number of deaths and injuries on the train.

"When I saw this picture in the report as someone in my office said, 'that's a spear,'" Sumwalt said.

More than 300 feet of the third rail pierced the first car where five people were killed.

The day after the accident, a Metro-North rail electrician told 7 On Your Side Investigates that the third rail design flaw increased the death toll.

"Impaled it and lodged at higher elevation and pushed it through the car," the rail electrician had said.

In its findings, the NTSB warned that continued use of current third rail system could increase serious injuries at grade crossing accidents. But it also found emergency window exits on the lead railcar worked properly preventing further injury, and that the Commerce Street crossing warning system functioned as designed.

"She was trapped until it was too late," said Alan Brody, Ellen's husband.

But Alan Brody is lashing out at the NTSB, telling Eyewitness News they failed the public by stating the obvious: That "his wife's car on the tracks caused the collision." But how she got there is the real question he says and the answer, he insists, has to do with an inherently dangerous crossing.

"She was trapped, and she was trapped in such a way she didn't even realize she was trapped until too late," Alan said.

The NTSB was uncertain that Brody had enough space in front of her car to move off the track.

The Safety Board did recommend that Metro-North take measures to reduce risk of severe accidents involving the third rail at grade crossings.

Metro-North released a statement saying they continue to work to reduce crossing accidents by eliminating some crossings or re-engineering them.