Metro-North Crash: Six Dead, Officials Say

Metro-North crash
An image from a WNBC-TV aerial video shows first responders battling fire on a Metro-North train following the accident near Valhalla, New York, on February 3, 2015. WNBC-TV/Reuters

The fiery crash between a Metro-North train and sports utility vehicle Tuesday evening killed six and seriously injured 15 others, officials say, renewing safety concerns about the nation's second-largest commuter rail line.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo described the Westchester County crash to reporters as a "truly ugly and brutal sight" on Tuesday night.

Cuomo told reporters at a press conference at the site that seven died, but on Wednesday morning he told CBS This Morning that the number had been amended to six, according to Reuters.

"The number of deceased in the train itself dropped from six to five, so that was actually good news," Cuomo told the CBS program.

The SUV stalled at a railroad crossing near Valhalla, New York, AM New York reports. The collision ignited an explosion that engulfed the vehicle and part of the train in flames. The explosion then caused the track's 750-volt third rail to tear through the SUV and into the train's first car, Cuomo said. The vehicle's driver was killed, as were five people on board the train. The vehicle involved in the accident was originally reported by news outlets as being a black Jeep Cherokee, but according to a Metropolitan Transit Authority spokesman, it was actually a Mercedes.

Cuomo was surprised that there weren't more casualties, he admitted to reporters at the press conference.

This particular train's average ridership is 650 passengers, a spokesman for the MTA (which operates Metro-North) told Newsweek. The MTA did not have an exact figure of the total passengers at the time of the accident, but officials evacuated some 400 to a local rock-climbing gym.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is traveling to the scene of the accident, the agency announced on its website.

The grisly accident, the deadliest in Metro-North's history, comes after a series of fatal and injurious incidents since spring 2013.

For example, a Metro-North Spuyten Duyvil train derailment on December 1, 2013, killed four and injured 61. The NTSB concluded in a report that the driver's undiagnosed sleep apnea caused him to fall asleep at the controls, resulting in the train taking a curve at 82 miles per hour. The speed limit on that stretch of track was 30 miles per hour. On May 28, 2013, a New Haven Line train fatally struck a track foreman. A northbound train on the Hudson Line struck dead a railroad electrician on March 10, 2014.

The NTSB said in November that accidents from May 2013 to March 2014 killed a total of six and injured 126. The board slammed Metro-North leadership in a recent assessment, stating that "safety programs that were in place were not effectively used to manage the safety of its operations and employees.... Metro-North did not effectively investigate accidents and incidents to identify and fix safety deficiencies. In addition, known deficiencies were not corrected."

The NTSB also blamed the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for allowing fatal safety gaps to develop. "Had previous NTSB recommendations been implemented by the FRA, many of the safety issues encountered in these accidents could have been prevented," said an NTSB press release on its investigative report.

"Examination of the FRA's national inspection program revealed that its system for prioritizing enforcement efforts was ineffective and that current methodology may not be effective in identifying systemic safety issues," the release continued. "This resulted in a lower FRA presence at Metro-North while track conditions were deteriorating, which increased the risk of a catastrophic accident."

This is a breaking news story and will be updated with developments.