FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – In the wake of a fatal Metro-North accident earlier this month in Valhalla, N.Y., U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., announced new legislation Sunday that aims to improve safety at railroad grade crossings.
The senators announced the Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Act of 2015 at a press conference Sunday morning at Grand Central Terminal. The act would provide resources to the Federal Railroad Administration, states and communities to improve safety by focusing on engineering, education and enforcement.
“Many of New York’s hundreds of rail grade crossings are truly accidents waiting to happen, and it’s critical that the federal government do more to make engineering upgrades at accident-prone crossings, boost public awareness of the dangers at such crossings and improve reporting of dangerous problems at crossings,” said Schumer.
“While the precise cause of the Metro-North crash in Valhalla is still under investigation, it’s crystal clear that the existence of the rail grade crossing played at least some role in the fatal, tragic accident, and this new legislation will focus on providing new resources to the Federal Railroad Administration, states and localities to help make much-needed improvements at many rail grade crossings and help eliminate future collisions. Improved safety must rise from this dark tragedy.”
Among the steps taken in the new legislation would be the installation of improved lights, signals and signs at crossings, and building bridges and tunnels to separate roadways from rail track. The bill would increase funding for the FRA’s Railway-Highway Crossing Program, which provides states with funding for the separation and protection of grades at crossings, the reconstruction of existing railroad grade crossing structures and the relocation of highways to eliminate grade crossings.
The program currently receives $220 million a year in funding, which would increase by $50 million per year for four years.
“Without the decisive steps we urge, rail grade crossings will continue to be accidents waiting to happen – in fact, accidents happening daily and repeatedly – including at more than 600 sites in Connecticut,” said Blumenthal. “Every year, there are more than 2,000 such collisions nationally, causing over 230 deaths and nearly 1,000 injuries.
"Our proposal will bring rail grade crossings into the 21st century by implementing new technology, raising awareness and providing resources. Too many innocent victims, drivers, train passengers and railroad employees have died needlessly or suffered serious injuries because of inadequate warnings and a lack of accident avoidance technologies.”
The bill would also revive the FRA’s Rail Line Relocation and Improvement Capital Grant program, which helped states and municipalities relocate rail lines for safety purposes. The new bill would provide $25 million to bring back the program, which was discontinued in 2009.
The senators’ legislation would also revive the FRA’s Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Grants Safety program, which was created as part of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 but never implemented. The new legislation would provide $100 million per year for four years to provide grants to states for targeted engineering and technology, public awareness and education campaigns, and targeted law enforcement to minimize collisions at grade crossings.
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