Last Year, a Metro-North Harlem Line Train Struck an SUV in a Valhalla Grade Crossing, Tragically Killing 5 Passengers & the Car’s Driver; Between 2005 and 2014, There Were 341 Railway Grade Crossing Incidents in New York That Resulted in 59 Fatalities and 96 Injuries
Funds Will Also Upgrade Roadway & Improve Signage at LIRR Grade Crossings in Deer Park & Oceanside, Metro-North Crossing in North White Plains
Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey (Westchester/Rockland), announced $5,162,417 funding U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) funds to improve the safety of 53 rail grade crossings along Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) lines. The funds are being provided by the Railroad Safety Infrastructure Improvement Grant Program. Specifically, $1.3 million in grant funds will be used to install new highway traffic signals; $1.9 million in grant funds will be used to install new CCTV cameras to better study future mitigation measures; and $1.9 million in grant funds will be used towards roadway and signage upgrades. Schumer, Gillibrand, and Lowey have long supported improved rail grade crossings throughout New York.
“When it comes to improving rail safety we must take an all-of-the-above approach that includes prioritizing a culture of safety, improving education, and making smart upgrades to dangerous grade crossings,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “Today’s investment by the FRA in some of New York’s most dangerous crossings will help this cause tremendously.”
“This critical investment will help prevent future accidents and improve safety for the countless New Yorkers who travel on commuter and passenger trains and drive across dangerous rail crossing every day,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Upgrading crossing signals, roadways, and signage are all urgently needed steps to reduce collisions and keep our railways and rail crossings safe for riders and drivers.”
“We cannot allow one more preventable tragedy at a rail crossing in our region,” said Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey, who successfully fought to include $25 million for these and other rail safety grants in last year’s omnibus spending bill. “The heartbreaking Metro-North crash in Valhalla and too many near misses since remind us that we must continue to work to protect families at dangerous railroad crossings. I’m pleased these grants will help officials at all levels of government work together to ensure our communities are safe and secure.”
Last year, following the tragic Valhalla Metro-North crash—one of the deadliest accidents in Metro-North history– Schumer introduced the Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Act of 2015, which would provide new resources to the Federal Railroad Administration for safety upgrades at rail grade crossings. Schumer and Gillibrand said that while this announcement is good news for New York, and improvements he fought for, he will not rest until his larger legislative safety package passes Congress. Congresswoman Lowey also fought hard to increase the set-aside funding for grade crossing improvements in the Highway Safety Improvement Program to $350 million in last year’s omnibus spending bill.
In 2015, a Metro-North train traveling on the Harlem line struck an SUV on its tracks in Valhalla, NY, killing five passengers and the car driver and injuring many more—the deadliest accident in Metro-North’s history. In 2013, 2,096 accidents at grade crossings killed over 200 people nationwide. In New York, there are over 5,000 rail grade crossings. Between 2005 and 2014, there were 341 Railway Grade Crossing Incidents that resulted in 59 fatalities and 96 injuries in New York.
According to ‘Operation Lifesaver,’ a national nonprofit organization dedicated to rail safety education, a person or vehicle is hit by a train every three hours. Ninety five percent of all fatalities on U.S. railroads are due to people trying to beat a train at a crossing or walking on railroad tracks. Across the country, there are 140,000 miles of railroad track and 212,000 rail-highway grade crossings. Approximately half of public rail crossings are ‘active’ crossings, which have either protective gates or flashing lights to warn whether a train is coming. The other half of public rail crossings are ‘passive’ crossings, which only have a crossbuck sign at the crossing and drivers must slow down to look for an oncoming train. FRA safety data shows that nearly half of crossing collisions are at active crossings.
Last year, Schumer and Senator Blumenthal introduced The Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Act of 2015, which would provide new resources to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), states and communities to make critical engineering and safety upgrades at rail crossings, like installing new lights and signals, particularly at accident-prone crossings. It would also provide grant funding to strengthen education and public awareness of grade crossing dangers, and for law enforcement to reduce violations of traffic laws at crossings. Schumer and Gillibrand said that they will continue to fight for passage of this legislation.
Schumer, Gillibrand, and Lowey today announced $5,162,417 in federal funds, provided by the FY 16 Railroad Safety Infrastructure Improvement Grant Program. Specifically:
- $1,347,500 in grant funds will be used to add highway traffic signal preemption to seven grade crossings on Metro-North’s Harlem and Port Jervis Lines to activate the traffic signals at the intersections and allow queued traffic to safely exit onto the highway prior to the activation of the railroad grade crossing warning systems. This will ensure motorists, pedestrians and cyclists will have time to clear the crossing before the grates go down.
- $1,910,785 in grant funds will be used to install CCTV cameras to record grade crossing movements at 43 identified grade crossings within Metro-North and LIRR territory to investigate specific incidents and analyze operations for targeted modifications to improve safety.
- $1,904,132 in grant funds will be used to install upgrades to three grade crossings to mitigate hazardous conditions between highway and rail traffic. The Metro-North project includes upgrading the roadway, pavement markings and signage in North White Plains. The LIRR project will improve two public highway grade crossings in Deer Park and Oceanside, with preemptive safety equipment and undertake roadway/traffic control improvements.