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Engineer, Conductor Help NTSB Piece Together Metro-North Crash

National Traffic Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt explains the route the engineer took to escape the train.
National Traffic Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt explains the route the engineer took to escape the train. Photo Credit: Zak Failla

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. – Following the second full day of the National Traffic Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation into Tuesday’s fiery Metro-North train/SUV accident, officials are slowly beginning to piece together a picture of what happened preceding the tragic events after interviewing Metro-North employees.

Investigators with the NTSB have interviewed both the conductor and engineer who were operating the train that collided with a 2011 Mercedes ML 350 SUV on Tuesday, who described a harrowing, smoky scene inside the train cars.

NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt said on Friday that Engineer Steve Smalls followed proper protocol, performed the necessary inspections and took the every safety precaution required in advance of his express train trip from Grand Central Terminal that tragically ended in Valhalla

Smalls, who was hired in 2010 as an electrician before becoming a qualified locomotive engineer in 2013, went on duty at 9:37 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and operated three previous trains. This was to be his fourth and final trip of the day.

As he approached the crossing, Smalls said he “initially saw a reflection at the crossing, and soon thereafter realized that it was the front end of a vehicle that was on the track,” according to Sumwalt. “He immediately put the train into emergency braking as he saw the car advance fully onto the track. (Smalls) realized that it was a woman in the car but he could not see anything else.”

From there, “the car disappeared underneath him, out his line of sight. He could feel the collision, but did not recall hearing any explosion,” Sumwalt said.

Smoke quickly filled the control compartment, and Smalls noted he could see sparks in the rear of the train and made emergency calls to the conductor and radioed that they had struck a vehicle.

Sumwalt then described some of Smalls’ heroics as he helped several passengers escape the train, even some of the most gravely wounded.

“He assisted with evacuated five or six passengers, and when the smoke got too dense, he exited the train through the side passenger door,” he said. “He saw a passenger crawling toward the door who couldn’t walk, so he picked up the passenger and held him in a fireman’s pose until an emergency responder arrived.”

Smalls attempted to make a return back to the flaming car to rescue someone else, but was unable to do so due to the flames. While Smalls was busy at the front of the train, the conductor was in the sixth car, and following protocol, he radioed the emergency and then went up and down the aisles of the six train cars he had access to.

Sumwalt said that following the incident, investigators described the two as “very traumatized,” but described their demeanor as “professional.”

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