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Metro-North Accident,

Valhalla, New York,

February 3, 2015

by Lionel E. Deimel


Ellen Brody’s car was caught

Between the gates where the railroad crossed.

We’ll never know just what she thought

That day that Brody’s life was lost.


A car ahead, a car behind

Moving slowly in a line

Around a parkway accident,

Ellen Brody, mother of three,

Crept along in her SUV.

Did her mind wander

As she navigated the detour,

Pondering some incident at the jewelry store

Or project at her synagogue?


Her Mercedes was moving past the gate.

(Why didn’t Ellen Brody wait?)

The arm came down atop the roof,

Proof that a train was near.

Hadn’t she sufficient fear to save herself,

If not her car?

She got out and looked about,

Examined the gate,

Ignored the motions of the driver behind,

Got back behind the wheel again,

And drove onto the northbound track.


The 5:44 out of Grand Central

Went into emergency stop

But was on top the car

Before it really slowed,

Coming to rest a thousand feet

Beyond the crossing at Commerce Street.


Car and driver had no chance

Against the advance of the speeding express.

The car was quickly turned to rubble,

Causing more trouble as it was pushed along,

Prying up third rail

That would impale Mercedes and the leading coach.


The worst, alas, was yet to come,

No doubt from gasoline

And power from the rail.

Colliding objects caught on fire,

Creating Ellen Brody’s pyre

And a conflagration on the train.


Announcements from the crew

Didn’t tell commuters what to do,

Didn’t tell them to brace for impact

As an airline pilot might.

Most passengers escaped,

Thankful that their fate

Was not to be met that awful Tuesday.

Passengers in front were not so lucky—

Pluck kept some alive,

But fire claimed the lives of five.


Had Brody heard the horn

And sensed the train was heading north,

Or did its warning cloud her mind,

Making it hard to find

A proper escape?

Safety was behind,

Maybe even where she’d stopped.

And yet, she went ahead,

So Ellen Brody now is dead.


Ellen Brody’s car was caught

Between the gates where the railroad crossed.

We’ll never know just what she thought

That day that Brody’s life was lost.


NTSB investigators at the accident scene
NTSB investigators at the accident scene (photo, NTSB)
Click on image for a larger view

The collision between a Metro-North Railroad express commuter train and a Mercedes-Menz SUV at a Valhalla, New York, grade crossing on February 3, 2015, was both a tragedy and a mystery. The driver of the vehicle that was struck by the train was Ellen Schaeffer Brody, 49, and the universal reaction to the accident was the question, what was she thinking? Her actions, which I describe in the poem, were observed by the driver in the car behind Brody’s, Rick Hope. (Details of the accident can be found in the Wikipedia article about it.)

I began writing this poem a few days after the accident, intrigued by Brody’s strange behavior. I had recently read a poem that relied heavily on internal rhyme—I don’t remember what poem it was—and I thought it might be liberating to write a poem in a relatively free forms that relied more on internal rhyme rather than end rhyme. That turned out to be harder than I expected, but I stuck with the idea.

On February 20, I posted a first draft of the poem on Facebook. I didn’t receive much feedback, but what commentary I did get was mildly negative. As a result, I made numerous small changes, repeated the first verse at the end, and added a second verse to give the story more context. If there’s a moral to this poem, it’s don’t stop your car on railroad tracks. Mostly, however, the poem is a story and a mystery. Alas, we will never know why Brody acted as she did. The poem reached the form shown here on March 8.

Although the poem is too irregular to be set to music, I am inclined to think of it as a tragic folk song. This is one reason I repeated the first verse at the end. In any case, “Metro-North Accident” is one of several of my poems that tells a story about actual events, although it differs in form from the likes of “Accokeek,” Musashi’s Odyssey,” and “The Quecreek Mine Disaster.” Such poems are fun to write, but they can be difficult as well, because the facts are what they are.

The poem was written 3/9/2015. On 4/12/2018, I changed the line “So Ellen Brody’s dead” to “So Ellen Brody now is dead,” which scans a bit better.

— LED, 4/12/2018

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