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Long IslandTransportation

Cuomo: MTA needs new plan to improve grade-crossing safety

A Long Island Rail Road train on its

A Long Island Rail Road train on its way to Speonk hit a vehicle on the tracks at the Rider Avenue grade crossing on March 3, 2015, Suffolk police said. Photo Credit: James Carbone

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has told the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to come up with new plans by next week to reduce the number of grade-crossing accidents in the region.

Cuomo’s call follows the latest incident of an MTA commuter railroad striking a vehicle at a grade crossing. Nobody was hurt when the Metro-North train hit the abandoned car at a Bedford Hills crossing Wednesday.

“These crossings have caused numerous deaths for years, and it happens all across the state. I will not accept the premise that there is nothing we can do,” Cuomo said. “If we know this system doesn’t work well, we have to act with common sense to change it. And we must act quickly, because enough is enough.”

Cuomo said he has directed the MTA “to have several plans presented next week” to combat grade-crossing incidents, including by using “motion detectors, painting danger areas on the street, voice commands, public information campaigns, etc.”

Cuomo said he also has asked federal regulators, which must approve grade-crossing changes, to work with the MTA to green light the changes in “weeks, not months.”

The MTA had already begun exploring grade-crossing safety improvements after a Metro-North Railroad train struck a sport utility vehicle near Valhalla in Westchester County on Feb. 3, 2015, killing the SUV’s driver and five passengers in the train’s front car.

In June, the MTA entered into a partnership with the nation’s leading rail safety organization, Operation Lifesaver, to raise awareness about railroad track dangers.

Long Island Rail Road President Patrick Nowakowski also has said that the railroad will begin installing cameras at some of the LIRR’s nearly 300 grade crossings in the hope that the state will grant the agency the authority to issue tickets to motorists who illegally drive through them when a train is approaching.

Cuomo and the MTA have also vowed to eliminate seven grade-crossings between Floral Park and Hicksville as part of a plan to construct a second track along the LIRR’s Main Line.

“The MTA has several changes that we believe can be helpful and we look forward to refining them with federal government and deploying,” MTA chief Thomas Prendergast said in a statement.

There were 12 incidents involving trains striking pedestrians or vehicles at crossings on Long Island last year, up from three in 2014, according to FRA statistics.

Evan Eisenhandler, executive director of Operation Lifesaver said his organization is “heartened” by Cuomo’s recognition of the issue’s importance. “If the governor’s office can open doors for us . . . we would welcome the assistance,” he said.

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