The fiery collision between a commuter train and an SUV that killed six people in Westchester cost the railroad about $3.7 million in damage, federal investigators said in a preliminary report released Monday.
The National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report into the Feb. 3 crash said about 480 feet of third rail was damaged, along with the lead railcar.
The Metro-North train crashed into a Mercedes SUV at a grade crossing in Valhalla, sparking an explosion and fire that burned out the first car of the train and sent pieces of third rail stabbing through the passenger area. The woman driving the SUV and five men on the train were killed.
Such preliminary reports from the NTSB rarely include major disclosures or conclusions. Those could be several months away, said NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss.
The NTSB will now examine the metal composition of the third rail and check samples from the interior of the lead train car for compliance with fire protection standards.
Although the exact cause of the collision has not been determined, Ellen Brody's SUV was stuck inside railroad crossing gates moments before the train hit. Instead of backing up, she drove forward onto the tracks.
"Witnesses reported the driver of the SUV as being stopped in the crossing prior to the gates lowering," the report said. "When the gate lowered it struck the rear portion of the SUV after which the driver exited the SUV, looked at the back of the SUV, then got back in the SUV, drove forward (east), and was struck by the train."
An estimated 650 passengers were aboard the train at the time of the accident, with 20 of those riders in the lead car, investigators said.
The board has said these are among its key questions:
— Why the SUV driver was on the tracks; one witness told the investigators the SUV was hit by the dropping crossing gate and the driver then moved forward and was hit by the train.
— Why the railroad's third rail came up in pieces, piercing both the SUV and the rail car.
— How the victims were killed; a medical examiner said all suffered both burns and blunt-force injuries but did not specify a cause of death.
— Whether the third rail's unusual design, meant to protect it from snow, contributed to its breaking up.