The Examiner

Mt. Pleasant, Chappaqua Rail Crossings Slated for Safety Upgrades

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Congresswoman Nita Lowey was part of a group of federal, state and local officials who gathered Monday to announce a  million grant to improve safety at railroad crossings, including five troubled locations in Westchester.
Congresswoman Nita Lowey was part of a group of federal, state and local officials who gathered Monday to announce a $5 million grant to improve safety at railroad crossings, including five troubled locations in Westchester.

New York State last week received $5 million in federal grants for railroad safety and grade crossing improvements, several of which are at local sites including Valhalla’s Commerce Street where six people were killed last year.

The funds, part of a $25 million initiative to enhance safety at rail crossings nationwide, will be used to install signal pre-emption at seven grade crossings on Metro-North’s Harlem and Port Jervis lines. Along with Commerce Street, the Cleveland Street and Stevens Avenue sites in Mount Pleasant and the Roaring Brook Road intersection in Chappaqua are also scheduled to benefit in Westchester.

Another three crossings have been identified for the technology in Orange County.

Mitigation of hazardous conditions are also planned at three crossings within Metro-North’s jurisdiction – Virginia Road in North White Plains and two Long Island Railroad crossings. At Virginia Road, Metro-North will upgrade the roadway, pavement markings and signage at the heavily used location.

“Safety is the MTA’s absolute top priority, and this grant is a major step forward in our efforts to put safety in the foundation of every single aspect of the services we provide,” said MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast, which operates Metro-North, at a Monday morning press conference.

The signal pre-emption system, where $1.34 million of the grant will be used at the seven sites, will allow queued traffic to exit onto the highway before activation of the railroad grade crossing warning systems.

Another $1.9 million will be spent on the improvements to Virginia Road and the Long Island locations.

The balance of the money will pay for installation of cameras at 43 Metro-North and Long Island Railroad crossings to help the MTA study those locations.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Harrison), whose district includes all of the Westchester crossings, said the grant is crucial to make critical safety improvements. Grade crossing fatalities have increased 16 percent over the past three years, she said.

“With over 212,000 rail crossings in this country, we must make safety improvements a priority, Lowey said. “Horrible crashes, near misses at rail crossings in recent years have been a wake-up call, forcing officials at all levels of government to work together to reduce the risk at rail crossings.”

Safety at grade crossings became a key issue locally following the Feb. 3, 2015, collision between an SUV and a northbound Harlem line train at the difficult Commerce Street site in Valhalla. Five train passengers and the driver of the vehicle were killed.

While the federal money will fund 23 projects in 14 states and Washington, D.C., New York is schedule to receive about 20 percent of the allocation. Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg said no state has been more focused on improving grade crossing safety than New York, particularly its congressional delegation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the railroads.

“The reason New York is getting such a significant amount of this $25 million pot is because they are thinking creatively about improving grade crossings, they are laser-focused on thinking outside the box,” Feinberg said.

New Castle Supervisor Robert Greenstein, who attended Monday’s press conference, has been pressing the state and federal government to explore an overpass over the Roaring Brook Road crossing because of the high traffic volume at that location near the Saw Mill Parkway and Horace Greeley High School.

Greenstein said it’s a positive that state and federal officials recognize the need to improve the intersections but he will continue to lobby for an overpass at Roaring Brook Road. At peak hours the pre-emption system, which is to get vehicles as far away from the crossing as possible as a train approaches, there could be long traffic lines, he said.

“These are not traffic improvements, these are safety improvements and it actually will have a negative effect on traffic,” Greenstein warned motorists.

“It’s important that we make sure that drivers are aware of their surroundings and what actions they may need to take from a behavioral standpoint as they are at these crossings.”



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