06.04.15

SCHUMER: FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION HAS HEEDED CALL & AGREED TO INVESTIGATE REPORTS OF MALFUNCTIONING RAIL-GRADE CROSSING GATES & SIGNALS THROUGHOUT ROCHESTER AREA – FOLLOWING MONDAY’S DEADLY CRASH, SCHUMER URGED FEDS TO LOOK AT MULTIPLE REPORTS OF GATES FAILING TO FUNCTION AS DESIGNED, CAUSING DRIVERS TO DISREGARD CROSSINGS & PUT LIVES IN DANGER

On Monday, a Chili, NY Man Was Killed at a Grade Crossing on King Road – Local Officials Say The Crossing Gates Were Down, But The Driver Drove Around The Gate and Was Struck By An Amtrak Train – But The Accident Prompted Many Local Rochester Residents to Report Instances Where Crossing Gates & Signals Were Not Functioning Properly

9-1-1 Dispatch Centers Had 200+ Reports in Rochester Area of Gates Dropping Down – For Up To Half-An-Hour At a Time – And Remaining Closed When No Train Was Approaching, Thereby Conditioning Motorists To Disregard Gates & Put Their Lives in Danger; Schumer Called For Immediate FRA Investigation to Ensure Driver Safety 
 
Schumer: FRA Has Heeded Call & Will Take Step in Right Direction To Survey, Examine Reports; Results Could Save Lives

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced, following his push, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has 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 Monday’s fatal accident at the King Road rail grade crossing and intersection that claimed the life of one Chili, NY man.

Schumer explained that this investigation is needed to ensure that these crossing gates and signals are functioning properly, and as designed, particularly following the crash in which local law enforcement say 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.

“I am pleased that the FRA has so quickly responded to my call for an investigation and will bring their considerable expertise to bear in examining the rail-grade crossing in the Rochester area, including at the very intersection where this deadly accident,” said Schumer. “These gates and signals are meant to protect residents, not condition motorists to disregard and drive around because it is assumed they are not functioning properly. There could be a serious flaw in the system here and these claims must be investigated so we can get to the bottom of this and ensure residents are safe.”

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 prove that a full investigation is needed. Schumer, who this week obtained data from the Monroe County/City of Rochester 911 Emergency Communications Center, 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 prove that a full investigation is needed. Schumer said this is because the failure of a crossing to function properly could be leading to motorists put 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 says the FRA agreeing to conduct an investigation of the reports of malfunctioning rail crossing gates and signals is a step in the right direction to ensure safety for drivers. Schumer said that while there is no excuse for motorists to ignore crossing gate signals, this tragic accident and the reports of malfunctioning crossing gates merit FRA review. 
  
Schumer explained that, early Monday morning, 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, NY. According to local officials, the railroad crossing gates were down and the signals were flashing, but the driver drove around the gate when he was struck by an Amtrak train. While in this instance the gates were functioning properly, the incident has prompted media reports from nearby residents that crossing gates at this location, as well as gates in other locations throughout the greater Rochester area, often do not function as designed. Schumer explained that, according to these reports, the crossing gates often drop down when a train is not approaching, thereby conditioning drivers to disregard the gates due to a belief that they are simply malfunctioning.

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 and Winton Road in Henrietta in Monroe County and others. Schumer said 9-1-1 call centers across the county have seen over 200 incidents since January 2014 where drivers have reported malfunctioning rail crossing gates and signals throughout the Rochester area. Specifically, there were 28 calls reporting 14 incidents of malfunctioning gates in the same time period at the King Road intersection where the deadly accident occurred.

Moreover, Schumer revealed the most recent call about “gates down but no train” at King Road was just last month on May 10th. Then on May 13th, 911 recorded a call from CSX saying a train would be blocking the King Rd intersection for 45 minutes because of a signaling issue.

Schumer cited 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.   

Even at South Winton road in Henrietta, the same crossing where a couple was killed by a train in 2004 because of a gate malfunction, there were 13 calls to 911 since January of 2014 reporting the gates were down but no train in sight. 911 data reveals some callers reported cars were driving around the gates and in one instance in February 2015 a caller reported the gate was not coming down while trains crossed. 

As a result, Schumer called on the FRA to conduct a full investigation throughout the greater Rochester area to ensure that they are operating as designed. Schumer announced today the FRA has heeded his call and will conduct this investigation to see where these reports have merit so rail crossing safety can be improved. In addition, Schumer recently introduced legislation that would improve safety at these crossings – focusing on better education, engineering, and enforcement – for the sake of both drivers and rail passengers across New York State. Schumer’s legislation, The Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Act of 2015, would provide new resources to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), states and communities to make critical engineering and safety upgrades at rail crossings, like installing new lights and signals, particularly at accident-prone crossings. It would also provide grant funding to strengthen education and public awareness of grade crossing dangers, and for law enforcement to reduce violations of traffic laws at crossings.
 
Between 2005 and 2014, there were 341 Railway Grade Crossing Incidents that resulted in 59 fatalities and 96 injuries in New York. In Connecticut during the same period, there have been 49 Railway Grade Crossings Incidents, resulting in 7 deaths and 32 injuries, according to the federal Department of Transportation. Schumer’s legislation – introduced in February – came on the heels of an incident in which a Metro-North train traveling on the Harlem line struck an SUV on its tracks in Valhalla, NY. This accident killed five passengers and the car driver and injured many more, making it the deadliest accident in Metro-North’s history. In 2013, 2,096 accidents at grade crossings killed over 200 people nationwide.
 
A copy of Senator Schumer’s initial letter to the FRA appears below:
 
Dear Acting Administrator Feinberg:
 
In light of recent reports of malfunctioning grade crossing signals, I write to urge you to investigate rail-grade crossing gates and other signals throughout the greater Rochester area to ensure that they are operating as designed. I also ask that you respond whether there have been any reported crossing gate malfunctions at the King Road intersection in Chili, New York specifically.
 
Early Monday morning, 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 when he was struck by an Amtrak train. While in this instance the gates were functioning properly, the incident has prompted media reports from nearby residents that crossing gates at this location, as well as gates in other locations throughout the greater Rochester area, often do not function as designed. According to these reports, 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. These reports of malfunctioning gates have pointed to the King Road crossing gate in addition to Ridgeway Avenue in Rochester and Winton Road in Henrietta in Monroe County and other crossings throughout Monroe County.
 
While there is never any excuse for disregarding grade crossing safety signals and gates, the reports of these malfunctioning gates pose a real concern. I firmly believe that this issue merits FRA review, particularly in light of the 2004 grade crossing double fatality, when a car with two passengers was struck by a CSX train in Henrietta, New York. Prior to that tragic incident, CSX had disabled their crossing gates at that location due to weather damage, and unfortunately the train involved in the crash failed to stop as it approached the intersection. At that grade crossing too, there had been reports of malfunctioning crossing gates and signals.
 
Thank you for your attention to this critical issue. Again, while there is no excuse for motorists to ignore crossing gate signals, this tragic accident and the reports of malfunctioning crossing gates merit FRA review. 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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