The recent announcement that the federal government will give New York several million dollars to improve railroad crossings highlights the need for legislation requiring the Department of Transportation to assess and prioritize rail crossing deficiencies across the state, said Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, D-Greenburgh, the author of a bill that would require such a study.
Abinanti is urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign his bill (A.5235-b/S.3458-b) that was passed by both houses of the Legislature in June. The bill directs the state Department of Transportation to conduct a study of level grade rail crossings and to submit a report to the governor and the Legislature on or before April 1, 2017.
“The federal monies should be used as efficiently and effectively as possible to improve the most dangerous railroad crossings,” Abinanti says.
Applauding Congresswoman Nita Lowey’s successful efforts to obtain the monies, some of which will be dedicated for improvements at the Valhalla crossing where there was a serious train-car accident last year, Abinanti noted that the state DOT assessment should precede the spending of the money.
The Federal Railroad Administration is providing New York with $5 million to improve signage near train crossings, install cameras and make other improvements to prevent accidents.
“Any improvements should include the results of an assessment of what drivers see and don’t see as they approach a railroad crossing,” said Abinanti.
The bill was first introduced following a February 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.
While the number of fatalities and accidents at highway-railroad grade crossings have fallen steadily on a national level, collisions have increased across New York state.
“Drivers shouldn’t be playing a game of chance whenever they approach a railroad crossing. We need the DOT to participate because we need to have a study from the driver’s point of view,” said the Westchester assemblyman. “A comprehensive evaluation of these often-dangerous crossings will go a long way in protecting the health and safety of New Yorkers.”
According to a New York Times article, based on the latest available Federal Railroad Administration data, there have been 30 highway-railroad grade crossing accidents on Metro North tracks in New York since 2003. As also noted in the article, highway-railroad grade crossing accidents on the three major commuter rail lines in New York rose to 28 in 2013.
The Senate bill is sponsored by David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, whose district includes several major Metro North crossings.