Metro North Commuters Uneasy After Fatal Crash

Metro-North train along the Harlem line following crash with an SUV.

Metro-North train along the Harlem line following crash with an SUV. (@anabolicapple)

By Malena Carollo, Swati Gupta and Lauren Hard

For commuters who travel by Metro-North Railroad regularly, Tuesday’s train crash near Valhalla came as a shock and a reminder that everything can go wrong in an instant.

Train service has been restored along the MTA Metro-North Harlem Line, according to the MTA Metro-North website. Barely 24 hours after the fatal crash, many commuters and train passengers in Grand Central did not seem deterred from traveling on the same line, even though some of them said they still felt uneasy, even to the point of worrying about where they sit on the train.

“From now on, I won’t ride in one of the front cars anymore. I’ll only ride in the middle,” said Lauren Landi, a junior at Pace University, who frequently rides Metro-North, taking the train from Grand Central Station to Westchester on a consistent basis.

“I guess that I trust they are eventually going to start fixing these problems,” she said, referring to the Metro North derailment that took place in 2013. “But for now I will be a little on edge riding Metro-North…we have no choice but to trust the train.”

Aisha Rehman, an infrequent passenger who travels to New Haven once a month doesn’t own a car and also sees trains as her only option. “It is a cause of concern. Generally they are safe,” she said. “But it is disturbing.”

MTA Metro-North train following accident near Valhalla, New York. (@anabolicapple)

MTA Metro-North train following accident near Valhalla, New York. (@anabolicapple)

Jim Bettel, director of broadcast technology at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism was in the train behind the one that crashed along the Metro North Harlem line. Bittel’s train, along with other trains, were evacuated at White Plains, nearly an hour and a half from his home. Initially, there was little information available, he said, and passengers took to their phones to learn what was happening.

“There was a lot of angst on the train,” Bittel said. “People who knew others on the train and people worried, ‘Is that the train that my friends usually go on?’ No one really knew who the victims were.”

The White Plains station, Bittel said, was “chaotic” with all the unexpected drop-offs and they learned more about the details of the crash.

“Even with the conductors and the people who drive these trains, if you take the train all the time, there’s a real camaraderie and you get to know these people,” he said. “You see them every day for a year or two. And so people felt bad when they heard who the driver was because I think people have friendships with them.”

Despite the crash, Bittel still feels comfortable taking Metro North.

“I never ride in the front car, in the first car, but not for that reason,” he said. “I always feel safe, I don’t worry about [crashes]. But just more specifically [for] Metro North, it just shows that you can be anywhere at any time and things can happen. I don’t think that anyone could predict that someone would try to run through a cross like that and run into a train.”

The announcement board at the Grand Central Station informing commuters about the suspension of services on the Harlem line where the fatal accident occurred on Tuesday. (NYCityLens/Swati Gupta)

The announcement board at the Grand Central Station informing commuters about the suspension of services on the Harlem line where the fatal accident occurred on Tuesday. (NYCityLens/Swati Gupta)

Daniel Altieri, who travels back and forth to New York City three times a week along the same Harlem line. Out of caution, he typically tries not to sit in the first car behind the train operator or in the first half of a plane. “Travel by car, flight or train involves the same amount of risk,” he said.

Molly Skerker who travels to New York everyday for work agrees with Altieri. “It is sad. I don’t know what to think. It is just weird. A freak accident. It wasn’t the train’s fault,” she said.

Gwen Soltis isn’t a frequent rider, but she does travel on Metro North a few times during the year. She isn’t worried. “Considering the number of trains that run versus the accidents that occur, I feel safe,” she said.

Waiting at Grand Central for a Metro North train to leave , Laureen Rego also said that she thinks that trains are safe, despite the accidents. “They are always on time, always viable. They are the best way to travel,” Rego said.

In response to the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says they are conducting an investigation. The MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast says that they are working alongside the NTSB for the first investigation at the scene of the accident.

Meanwhile, riders should expect trains to travel at a slower pace as they approach the accident area. MTA says that the train will be removed after the NTSB finishes its on-site investigation. Repairs are scheduled to be made following the removal of the train.

Both photos are by “JB.”

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