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Teen from Wyandanch is newest safety apostle for the LIRR

James Gustave of Wyandanch poses for a portrait

James Gustave of Wyandanch poses for a portrait at a railroad crossing on June 19, 2018. Credit: Raychel Brightman

In a 449-word essay, James Gustave explained the importance of railroad grade-crossing safety, concluding, “If society continues to increase awareness and obey the laws, we can continue to save more lives.”

Now Long Island motorists and pedestrians can see and hear the Wyandanch High School sophomore make his case in a two-minute public-service announcement produced by the Long Island Rail Road.

That’s because Gustave, 16, took top honors in a contest held by the LIRR to find new ways to spread the word about grade-crossing safety. The railroad received more than 300 submissions from high-school, middle-school and elementary-school students from across Long Island.

In recognition of his award-winning essay, the LIRR featured Gustave in the “Safety Focus” video that premiered at a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s LIRR Committee on Monday. The video is also featured on the Wyandanch school district’s website. Gustave, seated behind a desk like a television news anchor, explains that “being too distracted when you’re near train tracks can cost you a lot more than time. It can cost you your life.”

Railroad officials said they chose Gustave’s essay because of the research he did into the problem of drivers disobeying crossing laws. In his essay, Gustave noted that the weight ratio of a car to a train is “proportional to that of a soda can to a car.”

The contest, now in its second year, grew from the LIRR’s crossing-safety outreach program: Together Railroads and Communities Keeping Safe, or T.R.A.C.K.S. In addition to the high-school essay contest, elementary and middle schools were also invited to submit safety slogans.

“This partnership with local schools and the MTA Police allows us to reach youth at an early age and teach them about the railroad that runs through their communities — and how to stay safe while riding on the trains, or traveling across our grade crossings in a car or on foot,” said Lori Ebbighausen, vice president of corporate safety for the LIRR. “We congratulate our recent winners for a job well done and encourage more students across the region to participate in the next contest.”

A first-grade class from Bayview Elementary School in West Islip won the elementary-school contest. Regan Lyden, 7, came up with the winning slogan, “Look left and right, it might save your life.” A banner with the slogan is on display at the Babylon LIRR station.

And Janine Sacareno, an eighth-grader at St. Aiden School in Williston Park, won the middle-school contest with her slogan, “Don’t be safety blinded. Be safety minded.”

According to Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit railroad-safety advocacy group which was involved in the contest, grade-crossing accidents resulted in 274 deaths across the country last year.

CLARIFICATION: First-grade student Regan Lyden came up with the winning slogan for Bayview Elementary School in West Islip. An earlier version of this story did not include the student’s name.

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