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A tale of two crashes: Could new technology have saved lives?

There is no upside to two recent commuter rail accidents. There is, however, an important lesson for anyone who can take a moment away from concern for the victims of both crashes to consider the particulars of each accident. So let us compare and contrast the Feb. 3 accident involving an SUV and a Metro North commuter train in Westchester County, New York and the Feb. 24 accident outside of Los Angeles involving a Metrolink commuter train and a heavy-duty pick-up truck.

In both cases, the trains collided with vehicles on the track. In both cases, the engineers were able to slow the train but did not have enough time to stop. In both cases, the impact caused an explosion.

In New York, the electrified third rail broke apart and pierced the SUV and the first rail car. The second car may have been damaged by a piece of the third rail as well. Fire and smoke filled the first car as the train skidded to a stop. None of the eight rail cars derailed or fell onto their sides. From photographs, it also looks as if none of the cars uncoupled.

In California, the first car derailed either on impact with the truck or quickly after. The truck caught fire, but the rail cars did not. Passengers described watching as the train passed the wreckage of the truck. All five cars derailed. Three uncoupled and fell onto their sides as they came to a stop.

The Metro North crash resulted in six deaths and injuries, some serious, to 15 people. The Metrolink crash left 30 people injured, four of whom were in critical condition. One of the four, the train's engineer, passed away from his injuries a few days after the crash.

To date, two of the injured passengers on the Metro North train have filed lawsuits against the railroad. One person injured in the Metrolink crash has filed a lawsuit, too -- against the pick-up driver and his employer.

Did collision energy management technology have anything to do with the different outcomes? We'll discuss that in our next post.

Sources:

The New York Times, "Investigation Underway in Metro-North Train Crash," Marc Santora and Matt Flegenheimer, Feb. 4, 2015

The Alpena News, "Life-saving train design is rarely used," Feb. 26, 2015

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