Rail Crossing Safety Measures Promoted Since Valhalla Train Crash

While no physical improvements have been made at the site where the accident occurred, Westchester representatives have set aside funds for safety campaigns in the upcoming fiscal year.

A year has gone by since the fatal Metro-North grade-crossing accident in Valhalla last February, and while no safety improvements have been made at the site where the accident occurred, Westchester Representatives Nita Lowey and Sean Maloney have promoted measures supporting rail crossing safety, including these measures in the Fiscal Year 2016 omnibus spending bill.

“To our knowledge, nothing has been done to date, physically, to change that crossing,” Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Sarah Feinberg told The Journal News. “That’s a decision that would be made by New York State and MTA (New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority).’’

Most notably, these measures include an amendment to set aside $350 million for grade crossing improvements in the Highway Safety Improvement Program, and $6.5 million for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to develop a paid-media campaign that supports highway-rail grade crossing safety.

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“As Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Committee, I was successful in passing additional resources for states to improve safety and for the federal government to conduct a public awareness campaign to help avoid another unspeakable rail crossing tragedy,” says Lowey. “Officials at all levels of government will continue working together to ensure our communities are safe and secure.”

Westchester Representatives Sean Maloney and Nita Lowey (partially obscured) were joined by Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Charles Schumer of New York at an NTSB briefing last year.

Six people were killed on February 3, 2015 when Ellen Brody, of Edgemont, drove her sport utility vehicle onto the tracks at a Metro-North grade crossing and was hit by a northbound express train.

Since, the federal government has approved a $1 billion loan to help implement Positive Train Control (PTC) systems on Metro-North and Long Island trains, referring to a computerized, WiFi-based control system that makes adjustments to a train’s operation during potentially dangerous situations. A federal report found that a PTC system would have prevented the 2013 Metro-North derailment in Spuyten Duyvil.

And while a PTC system may not be able to prevent all hazardous situations, Maloney says sensors could be installed at grade crossings to warn approaching trains of anything on the tracks. The system was expected to be operational by the end of 2015, but the deadline has since been extended to 2018.

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“Installing positive train control systems on commuter rail systems like Metro-North is the single most important step we can take to reduce human error and save lives,” says Maloney.

According to the FRA, the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation is still ongoing, and will not issue recommendations on whether improvements are necessary at the Valhalla crossing until the investigation is closed. 

A candlelight vigil will be held tonight at Mount Pleasant Town Hall at 6 pm in remembrance of the six lives lost in the Valhalla train crash.   

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