As a resident of Westchester County, a gearhead, and a railfan, I've been following the story of the fatal wreck between a set of Metro-North Bombardier M7s and a Mercedes SUV at a crossing in Valhalla, NY. According to witnesses, Ellen Brody got out of her Mercedes after the gates came down on the rear of her car. She examined the damage, tried to remove the gate but after she couldn't, she got back into the car. The witness behind her said a few seconds passed between the time she got into the car and the time the car drove forward towards the train, as if she was putting on a seat belt or doing some kind of task inside the car. The witness behind her kept trying to motion for her to reverse towards him and get away from the tracks, but instead the car went forward, and she was struck by the train. The car caught fire, the 700V third rail cut through the train car and pierced into the second car. 5 passengers on board the train, as well as Mrs. Brody died in this fiery crash (5 people required dental records for identification purposes) What went wrong?
This is the shifter on a Mercedes GL SUV. It is a column mounted shifter located to the right of the steering wheel. It is a bit short and I feel counter-intuitive. I'm a service adviser at an independent shop and see all kinds of modern cars with funky shifters. On this particular shifter, you push it up to go into reverse, down to go into drive (forward), the shifter rests in the middle and you have to press the chrome P button to engage park. Is it possible she meant to go into reverse but put into drive in a panic and drove onto the tracks? Its possible. Is the shifter the reason she was on the tracks to begin with? No, its probably not.
This is a tragic event where several events and decisions culminated in one of the worst wrecks of Metro-North's history. There are many questions. Did the third rail make this situation worse Were the plastics used inside the railcar accelerate the fire and make the smoke toxic? Did a shifter design out of Stuttgart contribute to a train/car collision in suburban New York? We may never know what really happened. My thoughts and prayers remain with the victims, their friends & families and those injured as well as the first responders and the heroic actions by engineer Steven Smalls, who did as much as he possibly could to warn and at least lower the speed at the time of impact, as well as pulling people out of that inferno and no doubt saving lives.