Abinanti, Carlucci demand release of DOT study on railroad crossing safety

Courtesy of the National Transportation Safety Board
NTSB engineers and inspectors look over a Metro-North train accident scene in Valhalla, Westchester County on Feb. 3, 2015.

Three years after a horrific train accident killed six people in Westchester County, legislators are demanding the state Department of Transportation release an overdue study required by a law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo regarding safe railroad crossings across New York.

Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, D-Greenburgh, and Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, recently stood with Alan Brody — the husband of the late Ellen Brody who died in a tragic rail-car accident three years — to demand information from the DOT about the safety of rail crossings across New York.

Abinanti and Carlucci held a press conference on Friday at the Commerce Street crossing in Valhalla to call on the DOT to produce the required review of all 5,300 railroad crossings throughout New York.

“A comprehensive evaluation of these often-dangerous crossings will go a long way in protecting the health and safety of New Yorkers,” Abinanti said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to accomplish something and not have to keep coming back here.”

Two years ago, Cuomo signed the Abinanti-Carlucci bill (A.5235-b/S.3458-b) requiring the DOT to conduct a comprehensive review and submit a report on the safety of railroad crossings to the governor and the Legislature on or before April 1, 2017.

The report was to include the accessibility of federal funds for improvement projects and the viability of implementing changes to increase safety. The DOT has not yet produced its report.

The bill was first introduced following a February 3, 2015 Metro-North crash — the deadliest in the railroad’s history — where a commuter train collided with an SUV at a highway-railroad grade crossing at the Commerce Street crossing in Valhalla.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the driver’s actions are the probable cause of the collision.

The SUV driver, Ellen Brody, died, along with five passengers on the train. The rail passengers were killed when 343 feet of the third rail, which powers the train, penetrated the floor of the first train car and struck passengers.

The DOT had earlier maintained that it would not release the report until the NTSB ruled on the investigation of Brody’s death.

The NTSB’s investigation was released July 25, 2017, which deduced that Brody moved her vehicle into the path of Metro-North commuter train. Investigators found traffic at the Commerce Street grade crossing was congested when the driver entered the boundary of the grade crossing and stopped.

The grade crossing warning system activated properly and a gate came down, striking the rear of her Mercedes-Benz ML350.

Witnesses said Brody exited the vehicle and examined where the gate hit her SUV. She then got back into the driver’s seat and moved onto the railroad tracks and into the path of the oncoming train.

Since the 2015 creash, there have been two additional rail-crossing crashes — in Rockland and Westchester counties — involving trains and passenger vehicles.

Although rail crossing accidents have declined nationwide, accidents in New York state have increased on the three major commuter rail lines.

Photo courtesy of Assemblyman Abinanti’s Office
From left, Alan Brody, husband of Ellen Brody who died in Metro North Collision, Senator Carlucci and Assemblyman Abinanti, at the Valhalla railroad crossing calling on the DOT to submit a report of New York State’s railroad crossings required by their 2016 law.

According to Abinanti’s office, his staff and the staff of Sen. Carlucci have reached out multiple times to the DOT, by phone and through letters to see where the study is. 

“Shame on the state Department of Transportation for dragging their feet on the rail crossing study,” Carlucci said. “Lives continue to be lost because of the dangers at some of these aging rail crossings. We need a plan in place to upgrade them to prevent future tragedies.”

When contacted by The Legislative Gazette, the spokesman for the DOT Joseph Morrissey said on Thursday that, “We are finalizing the study and will release it soon.”