Article and Photos by Eileen Gallagher
With the backdrop of the Harlem Line trains roaring by, Congresspersons Nita Lowey and Sean Patrick Maloney joined members of the town board, school board, and various public officials at the Roaring Brook Road railroad crossing on Monday afternoon to talk about their efforts regarding rail crossing safety.
“We know that rail crossings are where the overwhelming number of fatalities occur in railroad accidents. We know that 95% of fatalities occur at rail crossings…we can do better.” The words of Maloney were nearly drowned out by the whistle sounding as both southbound and northbound Metro North trains passed in the background.
Flanked by Supervisor Rob Greenstein, town council members Adam Brodsky and Lisa Katz, Westchester County Legislator Mike Kaplowitz, Town Administrator Jill Shapiro, Superintendent Lyn McKay, board of education members Karen Visser, Victoria Tipp and Warren Messner, and Police Chief Charles Ferry, Maloney and Lowey spoke of their dedication to improving safety at rail crossings and the implementation of positive train control.
“We are acting now in a bipartisan fashion to save lives before we have another tragic accident on Metro North rail space.” Referring to the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act up for consideration by the House of Representatives this week, Maloney spoke particularly of the Rail Crossings Safety Improvement Act, which invests in state and local governments’ efforts to build bridges or tunnels to improve the safety of grade crossings. Maloney then introduced Lowey, who echoed his sentiments.
“The tragic collision at Valhalla should never have occurred. But incidents at grade crossings are all too common. On average there is a collision at a grade crossing every three hours, and they account for nearly 95% of rail related deaths each year.” Lowey went on to say that with over 212,000 public and private grade crossings around the country, a multi-faceted approach is needed to tackle this safety issue, most importantly educating motorists.
“We’re going to make these kinds of crossings less common, and in the meantime I want to ensure that drivers know what to do and, more importantly, what not to do when they approach a crossing.” Lowey spoke of a proposal of $10 million for efforts in a high visibility campaign to address critical safety risks.
Evan Eisenhandler, the Executive Director of Operation Lifesaver (a nonprofit organization dedicated to rail safety education), shared his organization’s efforts to educate the public. Per their press release, Operation Lifesaver “provides free safety presentations for motorists and pedestrians throughout the U.S.” and warns “rail safety is something everyone should take seriously.”
Greenstein thanked Lowey and Maloney for their leadership on this “critical public safety initiative,” while reminding them of the urgency for safety at this crossing, located in close proximity to the high school and traversed by a large percentage of young drivers. Speaking of adjacent land owned by the town, donated in the 1930’s by Readers’ Digest owners Dewitt and Lila Wallace, Greenstein said that the land is available to build a bridge over the tracks. “All we need is money. I believe there is a will to do it, and certainly a need to do it, and I thank Congresswoman Lowey and Congressman Maloney for their leadership on this issue.”