Update 9 a.m.: The MTA just revised the death toll to 6, instead of seven.
The death toll from last night’s Metro-North collision with an SUV was revised this morning down to six in what was the railroad’s deadliest accident.
Five people on the train died, as well as the driver of a Jeep Cherokee that got stuck on the tracks in Valhalla in Westchester County and was hit at about 6:30 p.m. Officials originally said six train passengers had died.
“This is a truly ugly and brutal sight,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said after visiting the scene late Tuesday. “The third rail of the track came up from the explosion and went right through the (rail) car, it’s a devastatingly ugly situation.”
The third rail, which carries 750 volts of direct current, tore through the floor of the first car of the train, charring the carriage and sending billows of smoke into the air. Damage to the other seven cars was minimal.
“It’s actually amazing that not more people were hurt on that train,” Cuomo said.
The train was the Harlem Line’s 5:44 p.m. out of Grand Central bound for Wassaic in Dutchess County.
The accident has created yet more commuter chaos that started this week with the complete shutdown of New York City’s 7 that has invariably been blamed on ice and an umbrella on the tracks.
For Harlem Line commuters on Metro-North, the agency posted a service change notice here (click). The MTA has urged folks who use the line to work from home if possible.
The agency says: “Metro-North train service on Wednesday, February 4, will remain suspended between Pleasantville and North White Plains until further notice due to the train/car collision near Valhalla. There will be limited bus/train service for Upper Harlem Line customers beginning with morning rush hour service on Wednesday and until further notice.”
In addition to the fatalities in Tuesday night’s tragedy, 15 people were injured, the MTA said, 10 of them seriously. The National Transportation Safety Board is reportedly sending three investigators.
Passengers described frightening scenes as the train, which usually carries 650 people at that hour, was evacuated.
“The smoke was orange coming off the train, it was still on fire at that point. The front car was billowing heavy smoke out of the windows and doors,” said Jared Woodard, an employee of BGC Financial in New York, who was on the train traveling home to Chappaqua.
Reuters reports that hundreds of passengers from the eight-car train were taken to a rock-climbing gym for shelter.
The circumstances behind why the SUV was on the tracks — whether it stalled or was there deliberately — remain sketchy. The driver of the SUV reportedly got out briefly and then got back in before it was hit by the train.
The crash is the latest in a string of accidents involving Metro-North and its deadliest. Until last night, the deadliest was the Spuyten Duyvil derailment in the Bronx on Dec. 1, 2013. There were four fatalities in that accident and 70 injuries.
That train was traveling nearly three times over the speed limit for the bend it was traveling arm. The engineer said he blacked out.
Several months before that,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 five accidents that left six people dead and another 126 injured between May 2013 and March 2014.