Four months after the worst accident in Metro-North history, state Sen. Terrence Murphy (R-Yorktown) and various local elected officials endorsed state legislation Monday that would give municipalities the option to install video cameras at railroad crossings.
The measure, which was unanimously approved by the state Senate during its last session, would allow local governments to install cameras to record drivers who illegal cross the tracks. Tickets would be mailed to violators.
“Considering how many people either utilize Metro-North, or drive over the grade crossings, we must do everything we can to ensure our residents are safe,” Murphy said while accompanied by area municipal leaders in Katonah. “A good first step in that direction would be allowing municipalities to install traffic cameras at these intersections.”
On Feb. 3, an SUV was struck by a northbound Harlem line train at the Commerce Street grade crossing in Valhalla killing six people – five train passengers and the SUV driver.
Murphy, who said the cameras could also be used to record accidents, stressed that each municipality can decide for itself whether it wants to participate to avoid an unfunded mandate.
Currently, municipalities have the option to install video cameras on traffic lights to discourage speeding, but the state does not have a law to allow local governments to install cameras at railroad crossings.
While the bill passed the Senate unanimously in June, it did not come up for a vote in the Assembly.
Despite the tragedy in February in Valhalla, there have been other close calls. At the difficult Roaring Brook Road grade crossing in Chappaqua, there was a school bus that was stopped inches from the tracks in May, Murphy said.
New Castle Supervisor Robert Greenstein said he urged Murphy to introduce the legislation earlier this year. Various steps can be taken to improve safety at grade crossings, including Roaring Brook Road, he said.
“Traffic cameras at railroad crossings will dramatically increase compliance and enforcement of our railroad crossing safety laws,” Greenstein said.
He added that he would continue to press for federal money to build a bridge over the Roaring Brook Road crossing and the Saw Mill Parkway. The crossing is less than a half-mile from Horace Greeley High School and many students drive over the crossing every day they attend class.
Mount Pleasant Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi said he supported the video camera legislation. There are four grade crossings in the town.
In Katonah, more than 100 trains a day pass through the crossing, sometimes at speeds of about 60 miles per hour. The legislation would make the crossing safer by deterring drivers from going through the crossing illegally, Murphy said.