WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – Commuter advocate Jim Cameron said he is not worried about the safety of Metro-North even after the Tuesday accident that killed six people when a train hit a car at a crossing in Valhalla.
“A lot of investigation still needs to be done, but this accident does not seem to be Metro-North’s fault,” said Cameron, a Darien, Conn., resident who founded the Commuter Action Group and is the former chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council .
The deadly accident was the result of a car on the tracks, he said, and given the express train's speed, there was little the engineer could do to avoid hitting the car on the tracks.
“I’m not concerned about train safety; I still ride the train regularly. I think Metro-North has come a long way since the Fairfield accident in May 2013 and the Spuyten Duyvil accident of December 2013, to improve safety,” he said Thursday.
Some reports from passengers on the train indicate that there was some confusion as they tried to evacuate. Cameron said he heard reports that the engineer and other Metro-North personnel on the train helped to rescue passengers, which he called “commendable.”
When it comes to evacuating a train, Cameron said it would be difficult for train personnel to give safety demonstrations like passengers see on airplanes.
In an emergency, he said:
- passengers should remain in their seats if possible,
- be wary of sitting under overhead suitcase racks, and
- know where emergency exits and fire extinguishers are located.
Metro-North could launch a public safety education campaign to teach passengers about emergency exits and proper procedures in an accident, he said. He predicted that safety will also be on the minds of many passengers.
“I think more passengers will be aware of safety, and make sure to know where the emergency exits are,” Cameron said.
“I’ve heard some people say that they won’t ride in the first car again, which is fine if it makes them feel better. But people have to remember that trains don’t always derail on the first car, sometimes they derail in the middle.”
This incident should also remind people to use proper safety precautions when driving at railroad crossings, he said. Similar to the “Don’t Block the Box” campaigns in cities, drivers should make sure they have enough room to get over a crossing before entering, and never try to go around gates or continue on when lights are flashing.
The Operation Lifesaver program was launched in 1972 to spread awareness about safety near railroad crossings. In the wake of the Valhalla accident many local fire departments have issued statements directing residents to the Operation Lifesaver website and advising motorists on proper procedures near a railroad crossing.
- not stop on the tracks,
- not drive around lowered gates, and
- not assume that trains can stop in time.
If you do get stuck on the tracks, do not gather your belongings or try to restart your engine if you stall. Instead, get everyone out of the car and run at a 45-degree angle toward the train and away from the tracks.
Metro-North deserves credit for working quickly to repair the damaged third rail and restore service to the Harlem line so quickly after the accident, Cameron said. He also commended the commuter railroad for communicating effectively in the aftermath of the accident.
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