The New York State Senate this week passed two bills to decrease dangerous vehicular accidents at railroad grade crossings. Although the numbers of fatalities and accidents at highway-railroad grade crossings have fallen steadily on a national level, they have increased in New York and these bills would meet the need for increased safety measures at railroad grade crossings throughout the state.
A bill (S5238A) sponsored by Senator Terrence Murphy (R-C-I, Yorktown) would allow any municipality to install and operate railroad grade crossing photo violation monitoring devices at any railroad sign or signal. Utilizing the same technology as red light cameras, drivers who fail to adhere to safety signals indicating an approaching train would be fined. This measure would further incentivize drivers to pay particular attention to signs indicating appropriate stopping distances from railroad crossings and thereby prevent serious and deadly accidents.
Senator Murphy said, “The presence of warning devices such as flashing lights, signs, and gates have helped to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities, but have failed to deter drivers that choose to ignore these safety measures. There is no excuse for putting other people’s lives at risk. This legislation gives local authorities the option to install cameras at potentially hazardous crossings, creating a further deterrent for irresponsible drivers.”
The Senate gave final passage to a bill (S3458B) sponsored by Senator David Carlucci (D, Rockland/ Westchester) that directs the Department of Transportation and partnering agencies to conduct a statewide study of highway-railroad grade crossings to determine if adequate safety measures exist to prevent collisions between trains and motor vehicles. The study would look at the design and safety of highway-railroad grade crossings and the feasibility of implementing design changes to increase safety and reduce the likelihood of obstruction at such grade crossings; adequacy of traffic and pedestrian warning signals; the availability of federal funding for highway-railroad grade crossing improvement projects; and the feasibility of equipping passenger and commuter trains with technology to increase safety.
Senator Carlucci said, “Last year in the United States, 244 people lost their lives at rail grade crossings, with collisions increasing in New York over the past several years. Although we have over 5,300 rail grade crossings in our state, we haven’t updated this part of our transportation infrastructure in over 50 years. In fact, the length between the crossing gate and the track is still the same size as the model T. Many of our crossings were designed for people on horses, not drivers in cars. It's high time that we take a new approach to what are now dangerous crossings, and our first step must be a comprehensive study.”
Metro-North has 126 grade crossings and the Long Island Rail Road has 294, many of which have seen horrific and costly car collisions -- like the one last year in Valhalla that killed seven people. Other communities in the state have also had tragic incidents involving grade crossings. Two months ago, a Cayuga County man was killed after his van struck an Amtrak Passenger train in Mentz.