Blumenthal, Schumer differ on approach to Metro-North Valhalla crash

Washington – Sens. Chuck Schumer and Richard Blumenthal on Wednesday held a joint press conference on the fatal crash between a Metro-North train and an SUV in Valhalla, N.Y. ; and though they were on the same telephone line, they weren’t always on the same page.

In the joint press teleconference, Schumer, D-N.Y., cautioned reporters “it was much too early to point any fingers” of blame in the crash that resulted in six deaths and injuries to 15 others. Blumenthal, D-Conn., meanwhile, insisted the crash was “preventable with the right equipment functioning properly.”

Blumenthal also called for a quick end to federal investigations of the accident, saying the year-long National Transportation Safety Board investigation of a 2013 derailment near Bridgeport was unacceptable.

“What we need now is at least a preliminary assessment,” Blumenthal said.

Schumer, however, said he wanted a thorough investigation, and said that could take time.

The NTSB, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority – the parent company of Metro-North — are all conducting investigations of the accident.

Schumer said he was informed by investigators that the vehicle parked on the tracks was “bulldozed” by the Metro-North train and somehow “snapped” a third, electrified rail that was pushed into a passenger car and sparked a fire. He said the 15 people who were hospitalized suffered injuries from both the impact of the crash and the fire.

Blumenthal, who has become a strong critic of Metro-North operations, said a rail-safety bill he sponsored might have prevented the accident through additional resources for rail crossing guards, new regulations and other measures.

“We’re just asking a lot of questions right now,” Schumer said.

This crash is the deadliest in Metro-North history, and follows a string of accidents that began with the Bridgeport derailment. The accidents prompted the NTSB to criticize the railroad’s safety programs and culture.