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Train recorder data may offer clues in deadly New York crash





By Sebastien Malo

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. (Reuters) - Data to be released on Thursday from a train that slammed into an SUV at a suburban New York crossing this week could shed more light on what caused the crash that killed six people and worried commuters on one of the busiest U.S. rail networks.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators said the main question was why the vehicle had stopped on Tuesday evening at the crossing in Valhalla, an affluent town north of New York City.

They also want to know whether a nearby traffic detour played a role in the rush-hour collision on a Metro-North line. The crash killed the vehicle driver and five passengers in the first train carriage. Fifteen people were injured.

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Data from a recorder on the train may give a fuller picture of the timing of traffic gates and signals, and whether the approaching train changed speed and blew a whistle.

The federal agency has called a news conference for 5 p.m. Eastern Time.

On Thursday, people commuting to work on Metro-North said the crash made them think more about safety.

"Did I think deep down whether I should be sitting in the first car? I thought about it," said Alan Trager, 65, chief executive officer of a non-profit agency, as he rode the same train line out of Grand Central Terminal to White Plains.

"A part of me just takes pause at it," he said as he sat in the second carriage of the train. "I go, 'Oh, I should have paid attention to the emergency windows.' It's enhanced my consciousness of that."

So far, the probe has found that Tuesday's 5:44 p.m. train from New York City struck a Mercedes SUV driven by Ellen Brody, a 49-year-old mother of three, pushing it about 1,000 feet (300 meters) down the line.

The track's electrified "third" rail broke into long pieces, penetrating the first train carriage as a raging fire erupted. The rail entered the second carriage near its ceiling.

Near the crash site, Louise Chelluck, owner of "Valhalla Crossing Restaurant," said potential customers were shaken by the carnage and staying away.

"It's killing our business. I had one table today," Chelluck said. "Customers just don't want to be near the scene of the accident."

Among the passengers who died were Eric Vandercar, who worked at Mesirow Financial, and Walter Liedtke, a curator of European paintings for New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The crash appeared to be the deadliest rail accident in the New York area since March 1982, when nine teenagers in a van were killed at a railroad crossing in Mineola.

About 250 people a year are killed in vehicle-train collisions at U.S. crossings, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and David Gregorio)