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.
In 2014, Metro-North and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) made improvements at the Roaring Brook crossing by spending $100,000 on a second set of LED lights to make the crossing more visible, and in the spring, the DOT will re-stripe the pavement markings with high visibility epoxy. Westchester County has recently approved borrowing $900,000 to pay for more advanced crossing gates at CSX River line crossings which would make it virtually impossible for drivers to elude them. Vehicle-train collisions and fatalities at railroad crossings across the U.S. increased last year, according to date from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Collisions increased 9 percent from 2,096 in 2013 to 2,280 in 2014. 267 people were killed in those crashes, a 16% increase over one year. Collisions at the U.S. 212,000 highway-rail crossings had previously been consistently decreasing for several decades. The most annual injuries were in 1978 with 13,557, and the most fatalities on an annual basis was in 1976, when 1,115 people lost their lives in railroad crossing accidents. U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat from Cold Spring, NY, was the sponsor of a recently approved bill in the House that would authorize 90% of the funding for communities to improve safety at, or relocate, grade crossings. The Senate is now considering the legislation.
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