If Rail Crossings Can't Be Grade Separated, Can They At Least Be Safer?

That's the question asked by legislation introduced after a Metro-North commuter train slammed into an SUV at a crossing in Valhalla, N.Y., killing six people. More than 200 people die annually in over 2,000 grade crossing crashes.

2 minute read

March 15, 2015, 7:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

The Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Act of 2015 (S.532) "would boost the amount of federal grants for safety upgrades at crossings, and more education and safety awareness campaigns," according to Progressive Railroading (PR). "The legislation would focus on what the senators said experts have identified as the 'three Es' of the most effective means of reducing crossing collisions: engineering, education and enforcement."

Crossing_Trespass Stats

Credit: Operation Lifesaver

The February 3, Valhalla incident on the nation's second busiest commuter rail line, Metro-North resulted in the deaths of five train passengers and the SUV driver. It was followed by a February 23, Caltrain commuter train crash with an SUV at a busy Menlo Park, California crossing, killing the motorist. The next day, at 5:45 a.m., a Southern California Metrolink commuter train hit a pickup truck pulling a trailer that had turned on the tracks at a crossing in Oxnard. The Metrolink engineer died a week later. The truck driver had fled the scene, though he was captured and taken into custody, but released with no charges.

After the Metrolink crash, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) issued this statement:

These grade crossings are not accidents waiting to happen, they are accidents happening again and again, claiming lives and causing catastrophic injuries and damage. These deaths and injuries can be prevented through better education, enforcement and engineering. While it is too soon to know what may have contributed to today’s tragedy, far too many crossings nationwide rely on 19th century technology. Modern engineering, increased education and stronger enforcement are needed now,” Blumenthal said.

Sen. Blumenthal introduced the highway-rail grade crossing safety legislation with Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Feb. 15 in Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. The "legislation will focus on providing new resources to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), states and localities to help make much-needed improvements at many crossings and help eliminate future collisions," writes PR. "Improved safety must rise from this dark [Metro-North] tragedy", Schumer said.

Every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train, according to Operation Lifesaver, whose "mission is to end collisions, deaths and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and on railroad property." [See above image that includes pedestrian 'trespassing' fatalities.]

The bill was also introduced in the House as H.R. 1291, notes the March 5 press release from Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.). "She serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 in Progressive Railroading

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