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Safety Recommendation Details

Safety Recommendation R-17-009
Details
Synopsis: On February 3, 2015, at 6:26 p.m. eastern standard time, a 2011 Mercedes Benz ML350 sport-utility vehicle driven by a 49-year-old female, traveled northwest on Commerce Street in Valhalla, New York, toward a public highway-railroad grade crossing on the Harlem Subdivision of the Metro-North Railroad. Traffic on Commerce Street was heavy and congested when the driver entered the boundary of the highway-railroad grade crossing and stopped. The highway railroad grade crossing consisted of two highway lanes (one for each direction) and two railroad tracks, and was equipped with an active grade crossing warning system consisting of flashing lights and gates. After the driver entered the boundary of the highway railroad grade crossing, the warning system activated and the gates came down. About the same time, Metro North Railroad passenger train 659, consisting of eight passenger railcars, traveled north and approached the highway-railroad grade crossing at a speed of 59 miles per hour. The engineer from train 659 activated the train’s emergency brakes about 230 feet before the highway-railroad grade crossing and collided with the sport utility vehicle at a speed of 51 miles per hour. Metro-North Railroad estimated 645 passengers were onboard train 659 at the time of the accident. Five passengers died and 10 passengers were injured, all in the lead railcar. The driver of the sport-utility vehicle also died.
Recommendation: TO METRO-NORTH RAILROAD: Conduct a risk assessment for all highway-railroad grade crossings that have third rail systems present at or near those highway-railroad grade crossings and implement corrections based on your risk assessment findings that will mitigate the risk of highway-railroad grade crossing accident severity.
Original recommendation transmittal letter: PDF
Overall Status: Closed - Acceptable Action
Mode: Railroad
Location: Valhalla, NY, United States
Is Reiterated: No
Is Hazmat: No
Is NPRM: No
Accident #: DCA15MR006
Accident Reports: ​Preliminary Report: Highway-Railroad Grade Crossing CollisionHighway-Railroad Grade Crossing Collision, Commerce Street, Valhalla, New York, February 3, 2015
Report #: RAR-17-01
Accident Date: 2/3/2015
Issue Date: 8/22/2017
Date Closed: 8/5/2019
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status: Metro North Railroad (Closed - Acceptable Action)
Keyword(s):

Safety Recommendation History
From: NTSB
To: Metro North Railroad
Date: 8/5/2019
Response: We note that the contractor you hired to perform the recommended risk assessment determined that, although a grade-crossing collision involving a railroad and a third rail system could be catastrophic, it is extremely improbable. Consequently, the contractor categorized the risk as “acceptable,” and you agree with this determination. The risk assessment further determined that your current strategies are providing the necessary risk mitigation given the improbable nature of the hazard. Accordingly, Safety Recommendations R-17-9 and -10 are classified CLOSED--ACCEPTABLE ACTION.

From: Metro North Railroad
To: NTSB
Date: 10/11/2018
Response: -From Joseph L. Lhota, Chairman: This letter provides the MT A's updated response to the recommendations on behalf of both MT A railroads, MNR and the LIRR. As indicated in our May 10, 2018 correspondence, the MTA contracted with WSP (formerly Parsons Brinkerhoff) to perform the recommended risk assessment which included an international survey of railroads that have third rail arrangements near roadways and culminated in a risk assessment workshop to finalize the efforts. The risk assessment team determined that although such an event could be catastrophic, it is extremely improbable. Consequently, the WSP study categorized the risk as "Acceptable" and the MT A concurs. The WSP study further determined that current strategies are providing necessary risk mitigation given the improbable nature of the hazard. I am enclosing the final report and will be happy to provide any supporting documentation upon request. Based on our actions, we respectfully request that this recommendation be classified as "Closed- Acceptable Action" for both MNR and the LIRR. If any additional information is required, please let us know and we will be happy to provide it.

From: NTSB
To: Metro North Railroad
Date: 7/9/2018
Response: We are pleased that you have contracted with a management and consultancy company to assess risk on your third rail systems that intersect or are near highway–railroad grade crossings, and that you have invited other rail operators to participate in the assessment. We note that, once the assessment is complete, you intend to take actions to reduce the risk of accidents at those crossings. Please send us the assessment results and inform us of any actions you plan to take in response so we can ensure that both MNR and LIRR third rail operations near or at highway–railroad grade crossings were appropriately addressed. Pending our review of this information, Safety Recommendations R-17-9 and -10 are classified OPEN--ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.

From: Metro North Railroad
To: NTSB
Date: 5/10/2018
Response: -From Joseph J. Lhota, Chairman: This recommendation was issued at part of the NTSB's report on the February 3, 2015, grade crossing accident that occurred in Valhalla, New York. As a noted in our letter of December 5, 2017, the MTA competitively awarded a contract to the engineering firm WSP (formerly Parsons Brinkerhoff) on behalf of both railroads to conduct the recommended risk assessment. This work is now complete, and the final report is being prepared. The risk assessment work included an international survey of railroads that have third rail arrangements near roadways, and it culminated in a risk assessment workshop that was held on April 11, 2018, to review and finalize the work. The FT A publication Hazard Analysis Guidelines for Transit Projects and United States Department of Defense publication Standard Practice for System Safety, MIL-STD-882E, both set forth system safety criteria and guidelines for determining hazard severity and probability. These criteria were adapted for use in a rail environment to . determine the hazard severity and probability of a third rail near a highway-railroad grade crossing contributing to the severity of an accident, as the NTSB determined was the case in the Valhalla accident. Other than the Valhalla accident, the international survey and data collection effort found no accident in which third rail near a roadway has contributed to the severity of an accident. The risk assessment team determined that although such an event could be catastrophic, it is extremely improbable. Consequently, the risk was categorized as "Acceptable (with review)." The team determined that no mitigations are necessary, given the improbable nature of the hazard. Based on these actions, we request that recommendations R-17-009 and R-17-010 be classified as "Closed-Acceptable Action" with respect to both railroads. We will be happy to update the NTSB with a copy of the completed report as soon as it is finalized.

From: Metro North Railroad
To: NTSB
Date: 12/5/2017
Response: -From Joseph J. Lhota, Chairman, Catherine A. Rinaldi, MNR Acting President, Patrick Nowakowski, LIRR President, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, State of New York: This letter provides a consolidated response to the recommendations on behalf of both MTA railroads, MNR and the LIRR. Shortly after receiving this recommendation, the MT A made a competitive contract award to WSP (formerly Parsons Brinkerhoff) to conduct the risk assessment described in the recommendation in conjunction with both MTA railroads. Additionally, we have reached out to the non-MTA railroads and invited them to participate in our process, if they wish. On November 15, 2017, the MTA and both of its railroads held a kickoff meeting with WSP to initiate the risk assessment project, which is now well underway. Based on our actions, we respectfully request that this recommendation be classified as "Open-Acceptable Action" for both MNR and the LIRR. We will continue to update the NTSB on our progress. We thank the NTSB for its recommendation. If any additional information is required, please let us know and we will be happy to provide it.

From: NTSB
To: Metro North Railroad
Date: 8/22/2017
Response: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States and significant accidents in other modes of transportation—railroad, highway, marine, and pipeline. We determine the probable cause of the accidents and issue safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. In addition, we carry out special studies concerning transportation safety and coordinate the resources of the federal government and other organizations to provide assistance to victims and their family members affected by major transportation disasters. On July 25, 2017, the NTSB adopted its report Highway-Railroad Grade Crossing Collision, Commerce Street, Valhalla, New York, February 3, 2015, RAR-17/01. The details of this accident investigation and the resulting safety recommendations may be found in the attached report, which can also be accessed at http://www.ntsb.gov. Among the Safety Recommendations is one issued to Metro-North Railroad, which can be found on page 56 of the report. The NTSB is vitally interested in this recommendation because it is designed to prevent accidents and save lives. We would appreciate a response within 90 days, detailing the actions you have taken or intend to take to implement this recommendation.