Officials seek answers in crash of runaway train car in Utica

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How did a parked train car suddenly end up careening down the tracks in west Utica Tuesday afternoon, causing a crash at the historic Union Station?

Law enforcers and county officials say that something or someone may have unlocked the brakes on the train car.

“The brake was released, the lever was released,” explained County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr., this morning. Picente has been working with Utica Police and officials with the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway to determine what caused the crash.

“I guess it’s not that hard to release that level,” Picente stated, based on his conversations with railway workers. “That just doesn’t happen on its own.”

No one was seriously injured in the crash.

Authorities said the single train car was parked about two miles from Union Station, near Lenox Avenue, along Route 12. Railway spokesperson Melanie Boyer said the car was loaded with plastic pellets and was awaiting a delivery. She did not know how long the car had been parked along Route 12 or when the delivery was scheduled to take place.

At some point after 5 p.m., the brakes were released on the car and it started rolling uncontrollably down the tracks. Officials said it could have reached speeds up to 40 mph.

Prior to reaching Union Station, police said the train struck a passing car at the track intersection with Schuyler Street. The car was heavily damaged, but the driver escaped with only minor injuries.

“How that train missed so many cars and buildings is truly a blessing,” Picente said.

When it reached the station, authorities said the out-of-control train car hit a stationary locomotive that was parked on the tracks. The old, out-of-service locomotive was then pushed into the wall of the station, causing extensive damage.

No one was inside that area of the station at the time of the crash, officials said. No one inside was injured.

Officials were on the scene today assessing the damage.

“It’s really hard to tell” the extent of the damage at this point, Picente said. “There’s no damage to the main building of the train station.”

The locomotive did not hit the main Union Station building, instead hitting a secondary structure used to take passengers to the trains. The two buildings are separated by a pedestrian bridge, and Picente said they will need to find out if the crash caused any structural damage to the bridge.

The train car had not yet been removed from the side of the building as of this morning.

“Obviously, pulling it out of there will probably cause further collapse,” Picente warned. “We need to find out whether or not that walkway is secure.”

Several trains were delayed through the area around the time of the crash on Tuesday. Officials said this morning that Union Station and the tracks are back in operation.

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