03.10.17

SCHUMER: YET ANOTHER GRADE CROSSING ACCIDENT, THIS TIME IN NEWBURGH, SHOWS RAIL SAFETY STILL OFF TRACK; SENATOR URGES FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION TO IMMEDIATELY CONDUCT REVIEW OF RAIL-CROSSING GATE-WARNING REQUIREMENTS, ESTABLISH AN OUTREACH CAMPAIGN FOR LOCAL BUSINESSES NEAR CROSSINGS & LAUNCHES PUSH FOR INCREASED FUNDING FOR RAIL SAFETY GRANT PROGRAMS

On Tuesday, A CSX Freight Train Derailed After Slamming Into A Truck In The Middle Of A Newburgh Rail Crossing, Scattering Freight Cars All Over The Tracks  

Many Lives Could Have Been Put At Risk – Schumer Says FRA Must Review Rail Crossing Gates' Safety Procedures, Increase Fed Grant Programs & Establish An Outreach Campaign Targeting Businesses Located Near Crossings  

Schumer To Feds: Conduct Review of Rail-Crossing Gate-Warning Requirements 

In the wake of Tuesday’s freight train derailment in Newburgh, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today called on Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to immediately review current standards for the time between the activation of train warning signals and the distance of an oncoming train. In the case of the most recent accident in Newburgh, warning signals were activated 20 – 25 seconds before the arrival of the CSX train, as is called for by current federal standards. Schumer said the FRA needs to determine if that time should be expanded, especially in light of similar accidents including the Valhalla crash in 2015.  Second, Schumer reiterated his previous calls to increase federal funding for Rail Safety Improvement Grants and pledged to continue to advocate for increases in rail safety funding as part of any federal infrastructure package. In addition, Schumer urged the FRA to establish an outreach campaign focused on encouraging local businesses to coordinate with train schedules to ensure that slow moving equipment can safely pass over gate crossings.

“This latest grade crossing accident in Newburgh is another example of the dire need to make meaningful improvements in rail safety,” said Senator Schumer. “We dodged a bullet on Tuesday as this accident could have been far worse. That is why I’m urging the FRA to prioritize a review of safety standards for crossing gate activation times and warning systems, and to engage in an outreach campaign with local businesses to better coordinate how and when they move equipment across railroad gates. I will also continue my previous efforts to increase funding for rail safety grant programs‎ so we can make system-wide safety improvements.”

Schumer said that Tuesday’s derailment occurred after a CSX freight train hit a work vehicle that got stuck between the crossing gates while passing over the tracks. While only two crew members reported having minor injuries, the accident could have been far worse and caused more damage. Senator Schumer applauded the quick action of first responders and the emergency services to ensure the scene and all involved were safe.

The standard alert time at rail crossings like the one in Newburgh is 20 – 25 seconds before the train arrives. Schumer is urging the FRA to conduct a review and issue a report on whether the time should be expanded. In this case, an increased alert time could have activated the crossing gates sooner to provide an earlier warning of the approaching train. For businesses that routinely pass over railroad tracks with slow moving equipment, an improved standard may help workers better coordinate how and when they can safely cross.

In addition to a review of the safety standard, Schumer also called on the FRA to establish an outreach campaign targeted at businesses located near railroad crossings to encourage improved coordination with railroads and train schedules. When companies and workers know the schedule, those that have to move equipment from one side to the other can be confident that they will be able to do so safely and without risk of crossing the path of an oncoming train.

Schumer pledged to push for increased funding for the FRA’s Rail Safety Infrastructure Improvements Grant program. The $25,000,000 grant program, made available by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, provides assistance to states, local government, and passenger and freight carriers to improve the safety of rail infrastructure, including grade crossings and tracks. New York railroad travelers and workers would benefit from increased funding as safer tracks and gate crossings would address issues that became apparent following Tuesday’s train derailment in Newburgh.

Schumer was joined by Orange County Emergency Services Commissioner Brendan Casey, Deputy County Executive Wayne Booth, City of Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy, City of Newburgh Police Chief Dan Cameron, and City of Newburgh Acting Fire Chief Terry Ahlers.

“Tuesday’s derailment in the City of Newburgh was a serious incident that could have been much worse. Our local police, fire, and EMS first responders, along with County emergency management staff are all to be commended on a job well done. Rail safety is important for train passengers, communities who trains run through, and those who work on the trains. I appreciate Senator Schumer’s being in Orange County today to highlight the important issue,” said Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus.

Schumer has been a tireless advocate for making improvements to rail safety. He led the charge against dangerous oil-by-rail cars including DOT-111s and he's routinely fought for swifter implementation of the lifesaving Positive Train Control technology. Schumer has also been outspoken on the need for railroads to conduct comprehensive sleep apnea screening for their engineers, a frequent cause of derailments, and he's successfully pushed for the installation of inward facing cameras on a number of rail systems. Schumer's efforts today to improve grade crossing safety is yet another important pillar in a comprehensive effort to improve rail safety throughout New York

A Copy of Schumer’s letter appears below:

Dear Acting Administrator Patrick T. Warren:

I write to urge the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to immediately review the current federal standards for the time between the activation of train warning signals and the distance of an incoming train.  Recent accidents at railroad grade crossings in New York, including this week in Newburgh, resulted from collisions with vehicles despite the train warning signal and lights activating 20 to 25 seconds before the arrival of the train, as called for by federal standards. These accidents demonstrate the need for an immediate review and report of federal standards to determine if the standards should be expanded based on findings from incidents in the United States as well as compared to international standards.

As you know, on March 7th a CSX train was approaching a crossing equipped with active warning devices when the crew observed a Hi-Lift articulating boom vehicle fouling the main track in between the lowered gates. The crew placed the train in emergency prior to striking the equipment, but the three locomotives and the first 18 cars of 77 cars, some of them containing hazardous materials, derailed. Fortunately, no one appears to have suffered life-threatening injuries and there were no major spills of hazardous materials. In 2015, a Metro-North train traveling on the Harlem line struck an SUV on its tracks in Valhalla, NY, killing five passengers and the car driver and injuring many more—the deadliest accident in Metro-North’s history. Between 2005 and 2014, there were 341 Railway Grade Crossing Incidents that resulted in 59 fatalities and 96 injuries in New York.

In addition to reviewing and reporting on train warning signals and lights, I urge the FRA to establish an outreach campaign targeted at local businesses located near rail crossings. Specifically, the FRA should coordinate with businesses on train schedules and the plans to move slow moving equipment across grade crossings. As heavy and industrial equipment often move at different speeds than automobiles, it is important local businesses are aware of train schedules.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. An immediate review and report of federal train warning standards in addition to an established outreach campaign at local businesses located near rail crossings will help make a meaningful improvement in railroad safety throughout New York. Should you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

 

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