08.06.15

FOLLOWING FEDERAL INSPECTION OF ROCHESTER AREA RAIL-GRADE CROSSING GATES & SIGNALS, SCHUMER REVEALS RESULTS OF THE FED RAILROAD ADMIN’S SAFETY ASSESSMENT & LAUNCHES NEW PUSH, IN LIGHT OF FINDINGS, TO INCORPORATE NEW TECHNOLOGY AT CROSSINGS THAT CAN REDUCE FALSE ACTIVATIONS & PROVIDE ADDITIONAL SAFEGUARDS FOR DRIVERS

Following Deadly Accident, Schumer Called For Investigation Of All Area Rail-Grade Crossings, Citing That 9-1-1 Dispatch Centers Had 200+ Reports Of Malfunctioning Gates Dropping Down And Remaining Closed When No Train Was Approaching, Conditioning Motorists To Disregard Gates & Put Their Lives in Danger 

Now, Schumer Reveals Findings Of FRA Safety Inspections – Feds Assessed All 81 Crossings In Monroe County, Found And Corrected 88 Minor Defects, Issued 3 Safety Penalties Against Rail Companies, And Confirmed Many Gates Had Been Wrongly Triggered Into Closing 

Schumer: Fed Inspection & CSX Agreement to Review Installing Monitoring Devices Is Step In Right Direction, But Drivers Deserve More Protections – New Monitoring Technology Should Be Incorporated At Grade Crossings In Rochester

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer revealed the results of the federal inspection completed by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on all 81 rail-grade crossings in the Rochester area. In June of this year, Schumer urged the FRA to conduct a full investigation of all the rail-grade crossing gates and signals in the Rochester area following a fatal accident at the King Road crossing and intersection that claimed the life of one Chili man. At the time, Schumer explained this investigation was needed to ensure these crossing gates and signals function properly, particularly following the crash in which local law enforcement said the driver drove around the gate when he was struck by an oncoming Amtrak train. While the gates worked properly the day of that tragic accident, the accident brought to light other concerns about malfunctioning gates that clearly demanded attention.  Specifically, this accident then prompted multiple reports from Rochester area residents that said these crossing gates often drop down when a train is not approaching, conditioning motorists to disregard the gates due to a belief that they are simply malfunctioning and thus the motorists will be able to drive through.

In July, following Schumer’s push, the FRA agreed to complete this investigation. Today, Schumer revealed the results of these inspections and launched a new push to improve rail grade crossing safety, by urging the FRA to examine ways to reduce false activations of these warning systems and review ways to incorporate new technologies, such as remote monitoring devices, that could help railroad companies monitor the status of their grade crossing systems. Schumer said that while there is never any excuse for disregarding grade crossing safety signals and gates, the tragic accident in Chili and the troubling reports of false activations demonstrate the need for additional safeguards.

“The reports of malfunctioning crossing gates and signals throughout the Rochester area that came to light following this horrible accident were nothing short of striking. That is why I first called for the FRA to investigate all of the grade-crossings in Monroe County, and I applaud them for doing just that. These grade crossings should be helping save lives, not conditioning people to put themselves and their passengers in grave danger,” said Schumer. “Today’s FRA findings are a step in the right direction, but we still need to do more to protect drivers from malfunctioning rail-grade crossings. That is why I am launching a new push to have the FRA review and implement new technologies that help railroad companies monitor the status of their warning systems and keep them functioning properly for the safety of drivers throughout Rochester. The FRA has already started a campaign to improve safety at grade crossings and this effort fits into that perfectly.”

Schumer revealed that the FRA inspected all 81 crossings in the Monroe County area, including 73 active and eight passive crossings, owned by the four railroad companies that run through Monroe. Schumer said that FRA inspectors uncovered 88 defects on these crossings, all of which were considered minor and have been corrected. However, FRA has also agreed to re-inspect the crossings where defects were found to ensure these deficiencies are not repeated.  FRA inspections also reviewed complaint log information and confirmed that at times gates were wrongly triggered to close because they went into fail safe mode which can be caused  by weather, vandalism, or incidents such as interference from track maintenance teams.  In addition, the FRA has issued and is currently processing three civil penalty recommendations against CSX Railroad based on FRA’s review of the warning system malfunction records for the King Road crossing not on the day of the crash, but on another day, not related in the crash.   Specifically these three civil penalties are due to the FRA’s findings of a particular incident when a CSX work crew passed through a crossing sensor and unnecessarily triggered the gates to close at the King Road crossing in June. As a result of both Senator Schumer and FRA’s efforts, CSX has also agreed to conduct an internal review to assess installing remote monitoring devices to monitor its gates to better ensure effective operation. Following this newly revealed information, Schumer is pushing the FRA to also examine ways to reduce false activations of these warning systems, as they can condition drivers to ignore the warnings and proceed into unsafe situations, and examine this remote monitoring device technology to enhance crossing safety and reliability.

In July, Schumer announced that, following his push, the FRA agreed to conduct a full investigation of all the rail-grade crossing gates and signals in the Rochester area. Schumer urged the FRA to do this following a fatal accident at the King Road rail grade crossing and intersection that claimed the life of one Chili, NY man. Schumer argued this investigation was needed to ensure that these crossing gates and signals are functioning properly, and as designed, particularly following this crash where the driver drove around the gate when he was struck by an Amtrak train. The accident prompted multiple reports from local Rochester area residents that said the crossing gates often drop down when a train is not approaching, conditioning motorists to disregard the gates due to a belief that they are simply malfunctioning and thus the motorists will be able to drive through. Schumer said the failure of a crossing to function properly could be leading to motorists putting their lives in danger when a train is approaching the intersection because they simply assume the grade crossing’s gates grates and signals should be disregarded.

Schumer said the more than 200 incidents of grade crossing malfunctions from 9-1-1 call centers that were reported around the Rochester area since January 2014 proved a full investigation was needed. An average of five malfunctions per week have been reported so far this year, a rate that is higher than in the same period in 2014. The greatest number of calls about crossing problems came from the town of Chili. That is because the CSX Mainline splits into two lines in Chili, increasing the number of crossings in the town. Chili has seven grade crossings on CSX lines and other less-used crossings on the Rochester and Southern Railroad line.

These reports of malfunctioning gates have pointed to railroad crossings across Monroe County, including the King Road crossing gate in addition to Ridgeway Avenue in Rochester, Winton Road in Henrietta in Monroe County, Main Street in Fairport, and others. Schumer cited in June that there have been calls about malfunctioning gates every month of the year in Monroe County since January 2014, which he said underscores that these malfunctions cannot be solely related to snow or winter temperatures. In addition, Schumer said the data indicates it is not just the Town of Chili. There were similar calls in Henrietta, Fairport, the City of Rochester, and other areas.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the FRA appears below:

Dear Acting Administrator Feinberg:

I write in regards to the FRA’s inspection of the highway-rail grade crossings in Monroe County, and the FRA’s increased efforts to improve grade crossing safety. I sincerely appreciate FRA’s attention to this important safety issue, and the steps the agency has already taken to determine the extent of the problem and to increase safety across the region. As part of the new push to improve rail grade crossing safety, I urge the FRA to examine ways to reduce false activations of the warning systems, as they can condition drivers to ignore the warnings and drive through in unsafe situations.

As you know, in early June a young man was tragically killed when he tried to cross the train tracks in his car at the grade crossing on King Road in Chili, New York. According to local officials, the railroad crossing gates were down and the signals were flashing, but the driver drove around the gate and was struck by a train. While in this tragic instance the gates were functioning properly, the incident prompted many reports from residents that crossing gates at the King Road intersection, as well as other locations throughout the greater Rochester area, often do not function as designed, conditioning drivers to disregard the gates due to the belief that they are malfunctioning.

I am grateful for FRA’s prompt attention to this matter, quickly inspecting the warning systems at 81 grade crossings owned by four railroads in Monroe County. I also appreciate FRA’s commitment to increasing efforts to improve grade crossing safety by implementing a new multi-modal campaign to strengthen enforcement and safety awareness at grade crossings. As FRA continues to look for innovative solutions to improve grade crossing safety, I urge you to examine and incorporate ways to reduce false activations of grade crossing warning systems. For instance, CSX has agreed to review the feasibility of installing remote monitoring devices, which would help the railroad monitor the status of their grade crossing systems, while also enhancing crossing safety and device reliability. FRA should examine this technology and other options that could help reduce false activations. While there is never any excuse for disregarding grade crossing safety signals and gates, the tragic accident in Chili and the troubling reports of false activations demonstrate the need for additional safeguards.

Thank you for your continued attention to this important issue. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

 

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