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A Hi-Tech Solution to Safer Train Crossings

MTA Logo 201312by Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney

In the past two years, tragedy on our commuter rail lines has hit too close to home for many of my neighbors. First in Spuyten Duyvil and now in Valhalla, moms, dads, sisters and brothers didn’t make it home to their families from otherwise routine commutes. It’s sad that it so often takes tragedy to bring folks together to focus on an issue. But we owe it to our neighbors to get to work and improve safety along our commuter rail lines.

Ninety-five percent of deaths involving trains actually happen at highway-rail crossings. While deaths and accidents have declined steadily nationwide, accidents continue to happen in New York, the home of 5,304 grade crossings. From 2012-2014, there were 81 accidents, 15 deaths and 23 injuries at grade crossings, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. That’s why the Department of Transportation has listed railroad intersections as one of the “three most pressing rail safety issues.”

We must look at commonsense safety improvements at grade crossings — especially in high-density areas and at high-hazard crossings we know are dangerous. Earlier this month, I introduced the Rail Crossings Safety Improvement Act, which would invest in state and local governments’ efforts to build bridges, tunnels or otherwise relocate roads in order to improve the safety of grade crossings for passengers, motorists and pedestrians. In Dutchess County, we’ve made many of the signal improvements and long-term investments in bridges and tunnels, but across New York, we need additional resources to eliminate collisions and prevent deaths at highway-rail intersections.

We must also get serious about investing in Positive Train Control (PTC), a simple GPS and Wi-Fi technology that can stop or slow trains remotely. In recent years, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that PTC would have provided critical redundancy and prevented dozens of accidents, including the accident at Spuyten Duyvil. In 2008, Congress passed a law mandating positive train control systems for commuter and freight railroads, but due in part to funding issues, those railroads have struggled to meet this deadline.

Recently, I reintroduced legislation to open up existing sources of funding to speed the instillation of PTC, and for the last year, I’ve been working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Metro-North so they can be the first commuter rails in the country to use this federal financing to finally install PTC. This life-saving technology will not only prevent train-to-train collisions, but installing this critical technology could also allow us to detect grade-crossing malfunctions or objects on the tracks.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed provisions that I authored, including investments in positive train control and new funding for improvements at grade crossings. Now we need Congress to act immediately to ensure no other family is torn apart by a preventable accident.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney represents New York’s 18th Congressional District and is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. This op-ed previously appeared in the Poughkeepsie Journal.

See also: Nyack High School’s Darkest Day, 3/24/12

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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