MTA and federal officials on Monday applauded more than $5 million in new spending to improve safety at grade crossings throughout the region, including along the Long Island Rail Road.
Sarah Feinberg, administrator at the Federal Railroad Administration, joined Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Thomas Prendergast, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Rye) and other elected officials to highlight new FRA grant funding totaling $5,162,417 for the MTA’s two commuter railroads, the LIRR and Metro-North.
The money comes from new funding in the recently passed $305 billion federal highway bill and from an additional $25 billion pot that Lowey helped secure. New York got the largest share of the grant funding.
“There is no state more focused on improving grade crossing safety at the moment than New York,” Feinberg said at a news conference at Metro-North’s North White Plains station. “These grants are confirmation that New York is headed in the right direction.”
Prendergast said the new funds will pay for cameras at 43 LIRR and Metro-North crossings to investigate accidents and analyze operations; new traffic control devices at crossings in Deer Park and Oceanside; and “more and better” signs and pavement markings at many other crossings.
“Safety is the MTA’s absolute top priority and this grant represents a major step forward in our efforts to put safety at the foundation of every single aspect of the services we provide,” Prendergast said.
Prendergast said the planned upgrades are “in addition to a massive effort already underway” to improve railroad crossing safety at the MTA. The initiative was sparked by a February 2015 incident in which a Metro-North train struck a sport utility vehicle on the tracks at a Valhalla crossing, killing six people and injuring another 15.
Those improvements have included a new crossings safety public awareness ad campaign, increased police enforcement at crossings, and a partnership with Operation Lifesaver, a national crossing safety advocacy group that is training LIRR and Metro-North employees. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo earlier this year also approved legislation that increases the frequency of safety inspections and crossings, and raises fines for railroads that don’t immediately and properly report crossing incidents to the state.
The LIRR and state Department of Transportation also plan to eliminate seven crossings in Nassau as part of the proposed project to construct a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville. Prendergast added that the MTA is also embracing new crossing safety technology, and that the agency and Cuomo will be announcing more crossing safety initiatives in coming weeks.
Feinberg said, nationally, the FRA is also looking for ways to use technology to reduce crossing accidents, including by negotiating with tech companies, including Google, to modify mapping applications to warn drivers when they are approaching a crossing.