Two HV Lawmakers Urge Passage Of Rail Crossings Study Bill
Two New York state lawmakers and the husband of a woman killed in a commuter train crash last year in Westchester County stood at the accident site today, calling for state transportation officials to undertake a study of rail crossings throughout New York.
On February 3, 2015, a Metro-North commuter train crashed into an SUV that was stopped on the tracks at the Commerce Street crossing in Valhalla, killing five people on the train. The car’s driver, Ellen Brody, was also killed. Her husband, Alan Brody, stood with Assemblyman Tom Abinanti and Senator David Carlucci to call for Senate passage of a bill that would require the state Department of Transportation to conduct a study of all level grade rail crossings in New York. Here’s Abinanti.
“The DOT could do it itself or it could hire outsiders to do it for it, but we have to start the process and we have to continue to keep on top of the problem,” says Abinanti. “I’m not an expert on this but, from what I’ve seen, we’ve got rail grade crossings that were designed for rural America, and we no longer live in rural America.”
Abinanti, a Democrat, sponsored the bill that passed the Assembly in March. Carlucci, an Independent Democrat, sponsors the bill in the Senate, where he urges passage before the end of the session in June.
“We need to have the experts do a comprehensive study of the over 5,300 rail crossings so that we can prioritize and we can know which rail crossings are the most deadly; which rail crossings are the most dangerous; which ones have to be completely eliminated; and which ones is it just some minor signage.”
Or, he says, new technology. Here’s Brody.
“I’m a technologist and I can tell you that every complaint they make, everything they say that they can’t do, they don’t have the money, I will bring you a team of high-school students who will put in a better warning, with sensors, with communication, with a countdown clock, and they’ll do it in one day for under $100,” says Brody.
The Senate bill does have bi-partisan support, with two Republicans as co-sponsors — Terrence Murphy, whose district includes Valhalla, and Jack Martins, from Long Island. Murphy recently introduced another bill calling for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and state DOT to conduct joint inspections of traffic signals at interconnected grade crossings.
Brody, carrying a picture of his wife’s tombstone, called on the public to keep the pressure on to improve the safety of and upgrade warning signs at rail crossings.
“I have one simple message and that is the public has to stay on top of this or nothing will change,” Brody says.
Spokesman Gary Holmes says the DOT is reviewing the legislation requiring a study of rail crossings.
“This is one of several grade crossing safety proposals under review by the executive and the legislature including our own bill, which would mandate biennial inspections,” says Holmes. “Each bill addresses important concerns which are in line with this agency’s top priority, and that’s safety.”
The legislation does not allocate money for the study. Again, Abinanti.
“We believe that the Department of Transportation can take the money out of its resources and, if they don’t have the money, the governor can ask for a supplemental appropriation,” Abinanti says. “He can he can move money from somewhere else in the budget or in the next budget he can fund this appropriately.”
And here’s Carlucci.
“We need to have a complete inventory so we can spend our resources, the taxpayers’ money, in the most effective and most efficient way so that we can save people’s lives,” Carlucci says.
There have been near misses in Westchester since the deadly Valhalla crash, including in April, when a northbound Metro-North train clipped a car at the Green Lane crossing in Bedford. The occupants had gotten out before the collision.