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Longtime business operator calls School Street crossing 'very dangerous'

Broken concrete and twisted metal fills a portion

Broken concrete and twisted metal fills a portion of the interior of one of the train cars involved in the fatal crash Tuesday night at the School Street crossing. Credit: Newsday/John Asbury

Annette Farragher wasn’t surprised when she heard about Tuesday’s fatal Long Island Rail Road accident in Westbury.

The School Street crossing has been “an accident waiting to happen” for decades, said Farragher, president of Dependable Acme Threaded Products, which makes threaded rods and nuts.

While running the family business, located on School Street from 1982 through last July, Farragher said she has seen everything from trucks driving on the tracks to cars getting trapped between the crossing gates while waiting for the stoplight.


Accidents at LIRR crossings

Includes vehicles and pedestrians hit by trains, as well as trains hit by vehicles.


“That crossing is very dangerous,” she said. Three people were killed Tuesday night after their vehicle collided with two trains.

Last year, there were seven accidents at LIRR crossings on the Island, resulting in two fatalities and three injuries, according to Federal Railroad Administration data. The wreck Tuesday sparked renewed calls from state lawmakers for increased safety measures at grade crossings.

Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) on Wednesday introduced legislation to put cameras at railroad traffic crossings that would record the license plates of cars illegally going through crossings. The bill also would allow local government to issue summonses based on the recording of violations.

“It’s literally a red-light camera at a railroad crossing,” he said, referring to the cameras installed at some traffic lights.

The Assembly version of the bill also was introduced Wednesday and is co-sponsored by members Thomas Abinanti (D-Tarrytown) and David Buchwald (D-White Plains).

The LIRR already has installed cameras as some grade crossings but, unlike with red light cameras, the agency does not have the legal authority to issue summonses based on the recording of a violation.

Thomas said he’s working on getting funding for the cameras set aside in the 2019-20 state budget, which is due March 31.

“It’s very important and urgent to act on this given what happened,” he said. “Having these cameras at the railroad crossing will save lives.”

Similar legislation previously was considered in the State Legislature after a Metro-North train and sport utility vehicle collided Feb. 3, 2015, at a railroad crossing in the Westchester County community of Valhalla, killing the car’s driver and five train passengers.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority since has stepped up its security protocols and taken action along with the state to eliminate crossings by either elevating tracks or sinking roads underneath them.

Of the nearly 300 grade crossings across the Island, just two have been eliminated since 1998, both in Mineola. 

The Westbury crossing is one of seven the agency and state plan to eliminate as part of the Third Track project, which aims to construct a 9.8-mile long third track between Floral Park and Hicksville. The project, which is scheduled to begin in spring 2020, would sink the roadway underneath the tracks.

The Federal Railroad Administration's accident database listed four accidents at the School Street crossing since 1981 — three involved a pedestrian on the tracks, two of which resulted in death, according to the accident reports. The first accident , which occurred on May 22, 1981, involved a vehicle striking a train while moving over the crossing. No one was injured, according to the accident report.

But the crossing’s casualty rate goes back further.

On April 9, 1947, a man, whose vision was impeded by heavy rains, failed to see the red blinking lights and his station wagon was struck by a train at the crossing, killing him instantly, according to Newsday archives. 

Along with the Third Track project, the LIRR also continues to look into and implement other safety measures. Last year, the agency fit out all 296 grade crossings with roadside striping that extends over tracks, and reflective devices designed to more clearly identify crossings.

The LIRR also worked with Google-owned navigation app developer Waze to incorporate information about the LIRR right of way. 

The number of incidents at grade crossings on Long Island in which a train comes into contact with a person or vehicle has declined, falling from 17 in 2017 to seven in 2018, according to the MTA.

While Farragher welcomed the plans to fix the track, it came at a cost to her business, which was one of several uprooted for the project. Her business, which moved in July, now is on Sylvester Street.

Things are going well since the move, she said. It was difficult, but worth it, “as long as they fix that track," she said. 

PREVIOUS WESTBURY CROSSING ACCIDENTS

APRIL 9, 1947: John Fairweather, a 63-year-old estate superintendent of Jericho, is killed instantly when his station wagon headed south is struck by a Montauk-bound LIRR train at the School Street crossing in Westbury. A police detective says Fairweather’s vision was impeded by heavy rains and he failed to see the red blinking lights. The engineer of the train didn’t see the vehicle in time to stop, and the victim’s car was dragged 100 feet down the tracks before the train halted. Witness say the blinker lights were functioning at the time of the accident.

JAN. 7, 1957: A car driven by Abraham Greenfield, a 21-year-old of Westbury, stalls on the westbound tracks at the School Street crossing at 8:05 a.m. Greenfield jumps out of his car ahead of the Jamaica-bound train from Port Jefferson and runs to safety. The train pushes the car 400 feet down the track, where it hits an eastbound train, wedging the vehicle between two trains and blocking both tracks.

10 YEARS OF FATAL CROSSINGS ON LONG ISLAND

FEB. 26, 2019: Two LIRR trains strike a vehicle “trying to beat the gate” at a grade crossing Tuesday night in Westbury, killing the vehicle’s three occupants before the westbound train derails, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,000 passengers and crew, authorities said. The vehicle is hit by the eastbound train, then pushes into the path of the westbound train, before it is crushed and wedged between both trains.

MARCH, 3, 2018: Elizabeth Gallagher of East Patchogue is found dead after a train strikes a vehicle on the tracks just east of the Northport station, MTA officials said. Reports say the driver lost control of the vehicle, which went down an embankment and landed onto the tracks. Police found the driver ejected from the vehicle, which was struck at about 2:10 a.m. by an eastbound train on the LIRR’s Port Jefferson Branch.

SEPT. 18, 2017: An 94-year-old man dies in a fiery crash after he drives around the gates at a grade crossing just west of the Deer Park station and is struck by an eastbound-train about 12:30 p.m.

JAN. 9, 2017: Gilma G. Pabon, 66, of Holtsville is killed when she drives around a lowered crossing gate and is hit on the tracks just west of Brentwood at 8:02 p.m. at the Fourth Street crossing.

MARCH 22, 2016: Salvatore Arena of Mattituck is killed when he drives around a lowered crossing gate and his southbound pickup is struck on the driver’s door by a westbound LIRR train at Elijahs Lane in Mattituck heading from Greenport to Ronkonkoma.

MAY 10, 2013: A 63-year-old man dies when a westbound train strikes his car on the tracks near the Brentwood station at the crossing on Islip Avenue in Central Islip.

JAN. 22, 2013: Blanca Maldonado, 45, of Commack and her father, Jose Adolfo Reyes, 74, of Flushing, are killed when her car goes around a lowered crossing gate and is hit by a nonpassenger train. The crash pushes the burning wreck eastbound from the impact site at the 2nd Street rail crossing to the Brentwood LIRR station about half a mile away.

JUNE 11, 2012: An eastbound train crashes into an SUV on the train tracks near the Route 111 crossing in Islip, killing the vehicle’s driver, Alan Wuelman Balladares, 27, of Bay Shore. An investigation showed the gates were operating and in the down position at the time of the accident.

MAY 17, 2011: Ahmad Karimzada, 48, is killed and his two passengers are injured when a westbound express train, originating in Ronkonkoma, crashes into his bakery-goods delivery truck that went around the crossing gates in Deer Park.

MAY 2, 2009: A 78-year-old woman is killed after she drove through a crossing gate and into a moving train in Central Islip. Her vehicle strikes the rear car of the train headed to Ronkonkoma at the Carleton Avenue crossing.

FEB. 14, 2009: Michael J. Grande, 86, was killed when he drove his Lincoln Town Car onto the tracks and into the path of the Huntington-bound train as it approached the Robbins Lane grade crossing in Syosset. The Federal Railroad Administration investigated the accident, including what caused the north gates at the crossing to partially rise as the train approached. Federal investigators joined the crash investigation because of “conflicting eyewitness accounts” about whether the crossing gate was up or down at the time of the fatality.

Source: Judy Weinberg, Newsday research

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