The Town of New Castle (Chappaqua), has moved forward with safety improvements at its Roaring Brook Road Metro-North railroad crossing without waiting for federal funding for implementation. In light of the recent February 3 horrific crash a few miles south at the Commerce Street crossing in Valhalla, in which Edgemont resident and married mother of three Ellen Brody was killed (along with five front car passengers on the northbound Metro North train) when her Mercedes SUV was struck, the issue of railroad crossing safety has become a high priority.
The Roaring Brook Road crossing is one of seventeen railroad crossings in Westchester County, and Putnam County. Additional railroad crossings are located in Rockland County. The safest crossings are either tunnels or bridges above the tracks. However, the cost of such measures can be prohibitive. The Town of North Castle apparently considered installing an overpass in its development plan in 1963 and again in 1989. Town officials state that there have been fourteen reported malfunctions of the railroad gates at the Roaring Brook Crossing in the last ten years. The MTA, responsible for maintenance and operation of the warnings systems, alleges that there have been only nine reported malfunctions in the last five years, but that tests they conducted did not show any defects on those nine occasions.
When gates do not function correctly, the “fail safe” position is that they are supposed to go down and stay in position while the crossing lights remain on. There have been two reported close calls at the Roaring Brook station this month in which that did not happen. In one, a Chappaqua resident had to back up quickly when the crossing lights came on and the gates began dropping. She claims that the train went by five seconds after she got off the tracks; Metro-North states that it was 15 seconds—either way, a very close call. Earlier in March, a driver from Mount Kisco at the Roaring Brook Station claims she had to break through the gate seconds before a train traveling at 75 miles per hour came into the station. At that speed, it would take well more than the length of two football fields to stop the train, as the train is travelling at approximately 110 feet per second at 75 miles per hour and it would take several seconds to bring the train to a complete stop.