Deadly LIRR crash involving 2 trains and car causes heavy delays; 12 trains canceled during evening commute

WESTBURY, N.Y. — New York's Long Island Rail Road predicts "heavy delays" all day on Wednesday following the deadly crash of two commuter trains into a car that had driven around lowered crossing gates and onto the tracks.

An eastbound train that had just pulled away from the Westbury station struck the car at 7:20 p.m. Tuesday, police said. The car was then struck again by a faster-moving westbound train. Three people in the car were killed and seven people on the westbound train suffered minor injuries.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a "full investigation into the collision," which also forced the evacuation of nearly 1,000 passengers and crew on the two trains.
LIRR President Phillip Eng said the crossing gates and lights were functioning properly.

The railroad said heavy delays are expected as its crews work on two derailed train cars and "significant" track damage, and assess damage to the station platform.

During a press conference Wednesday morning, Long Island Rail Road official Hector Garcia said there will be limited service during the evening rush hour, with 12 eastbound trains already canceled.

Additional Babylon trains have been added during the evening rush.

Passenger Kiara Jackson told Newsday she heard the sound of metal dragging along the concrete platform.

"I knew something was wrong. We were in a panic," Jackson said. "There was a screech and then there was a thud. They told us to walk westerly and there were two small fires. Smoke was kind of coming in so they told us to just keep walking."

Another passenger, April Frazier, 31, of Brooklyn, was heading to Manhattan's Penn Station.

"I was sitting on the left side and all of a sudden the train really started rocking hard," Frazier told Newsday. "Flames flared up on my side. I heard the conductor yell 'Brake, brake!' That's when I saw the flames."

Tuesday's crash was the fifth incident at the crossing in 40 years, and the second involving a train hitting a vehicle, according to federal safety data. In the others, a person walking or standing on the tracks was hit by a train.

As part of the LIRR's expansion and modernization project, the railroad's "A Modern LI" website said it planned to eliminate that grade crossing, saying it "poses a safety risk to drivers, pedestrians and LIRR customers," and replace it with a "two-way grade separated underpass."

After a spike in deaths at railroad crossings in 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched a public awareness campaign with the slogan "Stop!

Trains Can't." The Federal Railroad Administration developed a crossing-finder app and persuaded technology companies to add grade-crossing warnings to GPS devices and mapping applications.

In 2017, there were 2,115 grade-crossing crashes in the U.S., resulting in 271 deaths. That was the highest yearly grade-crossing death toll in a decade (2008 had 290). Full-year data isn't yet available for 2018.

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