UPDATED 02/04/15 12:52 a.m.
VALHALLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Officials said six people were killed Tuesday evening, when a Metro-North train struck a car and caught fire during the evening rush in Valhalla.
The accident amounted to the deadliest in the history of the Metro-North Railroad, and there were worries late Tuesday that the death toll could climb. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has set up a contingency plan involving shuttle buses for the Wednesday morning rush.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, flames were seen shooting out of a train car on the Harlem Line, and smoke poured out for hours after the fire was put out. The inside of the train car was visibly scorched.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo came to the scene late Tuesday night. He said follow-up investigations would determine exactly what happened, but it appeared that the fire and explosion were all the result of the train hitting the vehicle.
“You have seven people who started out the day to go about their business and aren’t going to be making it home tonight. And it’s a painful reminder to all of us how precious life is, and sometimes, how random it can be,” Cuomo said. “This is a truly ugly and brutal sight. The third rail of the track came up from the explosion, and went right through the car, so it is truly a devastatingly ugly situation to see.”
Officials said the electrified third rail on the tracks became dislodged after impact and pierced the floor of the front train car.
“The third rail stops at the grade crossing, and so that’s where the contact with the automobile was made, and it entered through the automobile and up through the floor of the car,” Metropolitan Transportation Authority President Thomas Prendergast explained.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino got a close-up look at the damage. He spoke to reporters late Tuesday night.
“I was a commuter. This is my hometown, and I would take the train to Hawthorne. And you get on the train. You start reading the papers and listening to your iPad or iPod, and you expect to get home safely. This is the last thing anyone would expect to happen,” he said. “So there’s a lot of people coping with a very horrific scene.”
A Jeep Cherokee was on the tracks at Commerce Street in Valhalla when it was struck by Harlem Line train No. 659 just after 6:30 p.m., Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman Marjorie Anders told WCBS 880. The train had left Grand Central Terminal at 5:45 p.m.
The gates came down on top of the vehicle, which was stopped on the tracks, the MTA said. The driver got out to look at the rear of the car, got back in, drove forward and became stuck, the MTA said.
WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported seeing an arm of the crossing gate down at the scene; it is unclear if the gate was down at the time of the accident.
The train shoved the car about 10 train car lengths north, the MTA said.