A Metro-North commuter train slammed into an SUV during the evening rush on Feb. 3 in Westchester, New York, killing 7. Mike Segar / Reuters

Early reports say seven were killed in the deadliest crash in the railroad's history.

A Metro-North commuter train crashed into an SUV stuck on the tracks in Westchester County, New York, during the evening rush on Tuesday night. The New York Times is reporting seven people killed in what the paper is calling the deadliest crash in the railroad's history. The train cars were evacuated of hundreds of passengers as smoke covered the scene.


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Governor Andrew Cuomo surveyed the crash site—calling it a "truly ugly and brutal sight"—and told reporters the train pushed the SUV some 400 feet after impact. The precise cause of the incident remains unconfirmed but early indications suggest the car got stuck on the tracks as the crossing gates came down. The driver is reportedly among the dead.

Here's the Times, quoting Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Aaron Donovan and Westchester official Rob Astorino:

According to preliminary information, the gates at the crossing came down on top of the S.U.V., which had stopped on the tracks, Mr. Donovan said. The driver got out of the vehicle to look at the rear of the car, then got back in and drove forward. Then the vehicle was struck, he said.

Mr. Astorino said that the crash appeared to be the S.U.V. driver’s fault, not the conductor’s.

The crash is the latest for Metro-North in a series of safety incidents stringing back more than a year. In November, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a special report on five accidents that occurred between May 2013 and March 2014 and altogether killed six and injured 126 people. The report found safety management lacking for both the MTA (which oversees the railroad) as well as the Federal Railroad Administration.

The incident will no doubt also gather new attention for an advanced railroad safety technology called Positive Train Control, which (among other things) can automatically apply a train's braking system. While there's no sign that PTC would have helped in yesterday's collision, experts generally agree it represents a major improvement on current rail safety. PTC is primarily designed to address crashes that result from human error—about 35 percent of all incidents, according to the Department of Transportation.

The NTSB recently urged the railroad industry to adopt PTC by the end of 2015, as mandated (though not funded) by Congress. The latest budget proposal released by President Obama, which outlines a massive increase in infrastructure funding, would dedicate about $3 billion to PTC implementation. Federal funding for PTC would begin to address a concern that the technology's high cost will lead to fares increases that send people back into cars—where they run a higher risk of being involved in a crash.

On the whole, train travel remains exceedingly safe, suffering just a handful of crashes per million train miles in recent years.

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