SCHUMER TOURS SITE OF RAIL-GRADE CROSSINGS GATES & SIGNALS AS FEDERAL INSPECTORS ASSESS THEIR SAFETY, SENATOR ALSO ANNOUNCES NEW PUSH FOR RAIL CROSSING LEGISLATION TO SUPPLEMENT FINAL PHASES OF CURRENT INVESTIGATION
Recently 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: Malfunctioning Rail Grade Crossings Will Continue To Pose Severe Public Safety Hazard Until New Crossings Are Installed
At the Chili Avenue Crossing next to Town Hall, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today visited the Rochester area to ensure rail-grade crossing gate and signal inspections are moving forward as planned. During his visit, Schumer also launched a new push to pass legislation that will improve grade-crossing safety throughout the Rochester region and across the Country. This comes on the heels of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) agreeing to conduct a full investigation of all the rail-grade crossing gates and signals in the Rochester area following Schumer’s push. Schumer explained that he initially called for the immediate federal investigation following a fatal accident at the King Road rail-grade crossing and intersection that claimed the life of one Chili, NY man. The accident then prompted multiple reports from 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.
While in Rochester, Schumer met with FRA inspectors as well as discussed his legislation, which would provide new resources to the 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 to ensure accidents like this do not happen in the future.
“While the pain is still fresh and the investigation is still underway, it’s crystal clear that we must both closely examine all our rail-grade crossings and make sure they are functioning properly and make system improvements. That is why I am introducing new legislation that will focus on providing new resources to the FRA, states and localities to help make much-needed improvements at many rail grade-crossings and help eliminate future collisions. Improved safety must rise from this dark tragedy,” said Schumer.
Earlier this month, 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 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 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.
Schumer pointed to the 9-1-1 Data – provided by the Monroe County/City of Rochester 911 Emergency Communications Center – from 2014 and 2015 to reveal there were calls about malfunctioning gates at many of Chili's Crossings and show why an investigation was critical:
· King Road:
o 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 last month.
· Chili Avenue:
o There were four reported incidents of “gates down, but no train approaching.” In three of those cases, the caller reporter motorists were driving around the gates.
· Westside Drive:
o There were 17 incidents of malfunctioning gates. In six of those cases, the caller reported motorists were driving around the gates.
· Archer Road:
o There were five incidents of “gates down, but no train approaching.” In one of those cases, the caller reported a motorist drove around the gates.
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 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.
In Fairport, there were 24 calls of gates down and no train since January 2014. 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, which it began last week. Schumer joined the FRA inspectors today in Rochester, specifically Michelle Muhlanger FRA Deputy Regional Administrator for Region 1, and Robert Winstel FRA Supervisory Specialist for Signal Train Control to ensure the investigation is moving forward as planned and to assess the safety of the grade crossing gates and signals.
Schumer also provided an update on the ongoing inspection process. To date between June 8th and June 11th, the FRA inspected all 83 crossings in Monroe County used by the four railroads that operate in the county: CSX, Lakeville, Avon & Livonia (LAL) railroad; Rochester Southern (RSR) railroad and the Ontario Midland (OMID) railroad. Two crossings are on an out of service railroad line and 8 are passive crossing with no active warning devices such as lights or gates. All the Active crossings were physically inspected by FRA signal inspectors. In addition all the active and passive crossings that are in service were observed by FRA grade crossing manager.
Inspectors assessed each crossing for functionality of the crossing, alignment of the lights, and condition of the system power including batteries, proper electrical grounds, and proper warning time. The inspectors also observe the condition of signs and gates. Weather, vandalism, electronic equipment failure among other things could cause a grade crossing to fail.
The FRA's investigation is now turning to compiling additional data and reviewing records for all crossings in Monroe County for the last year including reviewing the information that the railroad collects, which include both 911 calls and any other internal railroad issues associated with each crossing. In particular, the FRA is developing information that reveals any patterns of concern and specific defects or malfunctions.
Once the investigation is complete the FRA will issue a final report of their findings. For any defects uncovered, the FRA will present an inspection report to the railroad and require the railroad take remedial actions. If the defect is serious in nature with safety consequences, FRA will recommend a civil penalty, the railroad must correct the defect immediately or take the crossing out of service and provide alternate means of warning the highway user. The railroad must inform FRA of the remedial action once completed and FRA will re-inspect.
In addition, Schumer also launched a new push to pass legislation that would improve safety at these crossings – by focusing on better education, engineering, and enforcement – for the sake of both drivers and rail passengers across New York State. Schumer’s legislation, called 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.
Specifically, the new legislation would:
- Provide states and communities with more resources to eliminate collisions at grade crossings, while strengthening and relying on existing programs that have been underfunded and underutilized.
- Focus on the “Three E’s” that experts have identified as the best ways to address collisions:
o ENGINEERING (installing improved lights, signals and signs at crossings and building bridges and tunnels to separate roadways from rail track):
§ Bolster funding for the Federal Highway Administration’s Railway-Highway Crossing program, which receives $220 million a year and provides states with funding for the “elimination of hazards of railway-highway crossings, including the separation or protection of grades at crossings, the reconstruction of existing railroad grade crossing structures, and the relocation of highways to eliminate grade crossings.” The legislation would increase this amount by $50 million per year for four years.
§ Revive the FRA’s Rail Line Relocation & Improvement Capital Grant program, which until 2009 had helped states and communities relocate a rail line for safety and other purposes. The legislation would reauthorize the program and provide $25 million per year for four years and clarify that Congress would fund a rail line’s relocation only for safety purposes.
o EDUCATION, ENFORCEMENT, TARGETED ENGINEERING (increasing public awareness of grade crossing dangers and promoting police efforts to reduce violations of traffic laws at crossings):
§ Revive the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Grants Safety program, which was created by Congress in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 but never implemented. This program was designed to provide grants to states for targeted engineering and technology solutions, “public awareness and education activities” and “targeted law enforcement” to minimize grade crossing collisions. The legislation that created the program required some of the funding to be used “on an expedited basis” where “within the previous two years” there has been “a major loss of life or multiple serious bodily injuries.” The legislation would reauthorize the program for four years and ensure it is properly funded, providing $100 million per year for four years.
§ Strengthen the federal government’s partnership with Operation Lifesaver, a non-profit organization that conducts public safety awareness and education campaigns and works with law enforcement officials to prevent fatalities and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and along railroad rights-of-way.
- Give the FRA additional manpower to focus on rail grade crossing collisions.
- Require the FRA to analyze new technology the public can use to report dangers at grade crossings.
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