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Unusual Third Rail Investigated After NY Train Accident

February 9, 2015 — Investigators are trying to determine whether an unusually designed third rail may have contributed to a deadly train accident in New York last week.

The incident occurred near Valhalla, New York on February 3. For reasons unknown, a Mercedes SUV driven by 49 year-old Ellen Brody stopped on the tracks.

According to eye-witnesses, she got out of her vehicle when the crossing gates came down, but got back in. Before she could move forward, the SUV was hit by a commuter train on Metro-North Railroad’s Harlem Line.

In the first-known incident of its kind, about 400 feet of electrified third rail broke into 39-foot sections and pierced the train, “like daggers going into the heart of that chamber,” according to Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn).

The third rail had an unusual “under-running” design with a “shoe” that moves under the rail instead of sliding on top. Some say this may have acted like a pry bar that lifted up sections and impaled the train.

Six people died in the accident, including five passengers on the train and the driver of the SUV. Another 15 were hospitalized, including seven with severe injuries. It was the worst accident in the history of the commuter railroad.

Investigators are trying to determine whether poor signage, icy conditions, or other factors confused the driver of the SUV or contributed to the incident. According to the Associated Press, the crossing had recently been upgraded, but plans to install more lights were never carried out.

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