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With Metro-North Ridership Reaching Post-Pandemic Highs–4.8 Million Last Month–Schumer Says Feds Need To Step Up To Boost Rail Safety For Commuters and Drivers

After Horrific 2015 Valhalla Train Crash That Killed Six People, Schumer Pushed For Major Train Safety Increases–Now He Wants Feds To Get All Aboard To Help Improve Life-Saving Measures For Train Crossings Critical To Putnam, Dutchess, Westchester And Hudson Valley Residents

Schumer: Feds Must Fast Track Hudson Valley Rail-Safety Improvements 

Standing with community leaders, ACRE union members, train safety advocates, and local officials at one of five soon-to-be upgraded Metro-North highway-grade crossings in Garrison, New York, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today launched his two-track plan to make the Hudson Valley safer for commuters, drivers, pedestrians, first responders, and railroad employees.

Schumer explained that Metro-North Crossings across the Hudson Valley have been notorious sites for hundreds car accidents – with local officials saying many near accidents constantly going unreported. Now, with the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) passed, which includes over $9 billion in federal rail safety funding, Schumer said that it is a unique moment to finally get long overdue investments Hudson Valley communities have sought back on track.

“We will never forget the tragedies in Valhalla and Spuyten Duyvil, and need to do more – and to do it faster – to achieve better rail safety for Hudson Valley commuters, rail workers, pedestrians and drivers. I have already secured $4 million to upgrade five Metro-North grade crossings in Dutchess and Putnam counties, but we can’t let progress idle, which is why I am calling on the feds to get all aboard with my two-track plan to increase rail safety funding and fast track long overdue projects to keep commuters, workers and residents safe,” said Senator Schumer. “My plan would invest over $100 million to put in place common sense and widely desired measures for Hudson Valley families, drivers, and commuters. When I led the Bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Law to passage, it was desperately needed community investments like this that I had in mind. It is time to fast track these improvements and get the Hudson Valley residents the increased rail safety they deserve.”

Schumer revealed that he has already secured $4.4 million through the Commuter Authority Rail Safety Improvement (CARSI) program to make critical safety improvements at Manitou Station Road and four other grade crossings in Dutchess and Putnam Counties. This funding will help upgrade warning systems, boost accessibility, and help Metro-North to implement other new safety measures on its Hudson and Harlem Lines.

Schumer said, however, that the feds cannot idle and that much more is needed to address rail safety across the Hudson Valley.  For example, Schumer explained that the nearby Roaring Brook Road crossing in Westchester, located less than half a mile from Horace Greeley High School, has seen over 180 car accidents and 27 signal malfunctions in just the past five years alone. Schumer said this is only a small example of the hundreds of accidents and near accidents that occur at rail crossings across the Hudson Valley. In October 2022, Metro-North had its strongest ridership since March 2020, with over 4.8 million riders which Schumer said should make addressing these safety concerns a top priority. 

Schumer said he is launching a two-track plan for the feds to bolster rail safety across the Hudson Valley.

First, following the horrific 2015 Valhalla train crash that killed six people, Schumer said he is pushing for $67 million to eliminate the dangerous grade crossing in the Town of New Castle that is also on Metro-North’s Harlem line. Schumer said that even though local officials have worked for years to make safety improvements, the cost of building of eliminate the crossing has been too high for localities to take on their own. However, thanks to the new $3 billion in Railroad Crossing Elimination Program that he secured in the IIJA, the senator said the federal funding is now finally available to make projects like this happen and he is pushing for the Hudson Valley to be able to tap that pot. This would allow the Town of New Castle to build a bridge and eliminate the dangerous Harlem Line crossing near the Saw Mill River Parkway that has seen over 850 accidents in 15 years.  

Second, building on his successful calls for Metro-North to install life-saving positive train control (PTC) technology, Schumer said he is also pushing to secure $45 million for additional system-wide safety improvements to enhance current PTC tech through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) program. The CRISI program is slated to receive $5 billion over five years thanks to the IIJA specifically for helping prevent dangerous train crashes, like those that have plagued Hudson Valley residents, including as recently as a few days ago. PTC is a communications and signaling system that can be used on railroads to prevent accidents caused by excessive speed and human error. Schumer said this technology works by automatically slowing trains down in the event of an emergency or if there’s a dangerous obstacle on the tracks. Metro-North installed PTC on all its trains with a feature called Secure Positive Train Stop Release. The secure PTSR enables an operator to override the automatic stoppage of a train (the PTC system) if there is a known circuit problem, and to do so with a single push of a button. This button could easily be mis-pressed, so a modification to enhance the system with a series of matching codes is needed. The new system requires the train engineer to input a code provided by the dispatcher. Only once the codes match can the override button be activated. If funded, this grant would add the new code feature to the secure positive train stop release (Secure PTSR) to Metro-North trains, adding an additional step for train operators to type in a code to override the slowing down of the trains by dispatchers.

The Hudson Valley has long history of train accidents impacting Putnam, Dutchess, and Westchester counties. In February 2015, a Metro-North train traveling on the Harlem line struck an SUV on its tracks at a grade crossing in Valhalla, New York, killing five passengers and the car driver and injuring many more—the deadliest accident in Metro-North’s history. In 2013, the Spuyten Duyvil tragedy was the deadliest train accident within New York City since 1991, losing four lives and seeing more than sixty people injured. Currently, Metro-North has 74 public highway-rail crossings and 34 private-highway rail crossings.

Responding to these incidents and others, Schumer has been a fierce advocate for PTC and rail safety. PTC is a communications and signaling system that can be used on railroads to prevent collisions caused by excessive speed and human error. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has found dozens of passenger and freight rail accidents over the years that could have been prevented through the use of PTC, including the 2013 Spuyten Duyvil crash. In 2015, Schumer helped to secure a low-cost, federal Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan from the Department of Transportation (DOT) for $976.1 million to be used by the MTA and its railroads for PTC implementation. DOT gives RRIF priority to projects that provide public benefits, including benefits to public safety such as PTC. The nearly $1 billion in RRIF financing enabled the LIRR and Metro-North to swiftly install and implement PTC.

In the IIJA, Schumer secured several key rail safety provisions. This includes $33 million over five years to New York State for the formula Railway-Highway Crossing program to execute projects that reduce fatalities and injuries at railway grade crossings. Schumer also secured the above mentioned $3 billion in competitive funding for the Railroad Crossing Elimination program which seeks to reduce fatalities and injuries by providing physical separation through a tunnel, bridge, embankment, or similar infrastructure, and $5 billion for the competitive Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement program.

Schumer was joined by Putnam County Legislator, Nancy Montgomery, the wife of Jim Lovell, a 58-year father of four among those killed in the Spuyten Duyvil derailment, Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, Cold Spring Mayor Kathleen E. Foley, New Castle Town Administrator Jill Simon Shapiro, New Castle Police Chief James D. Carroll, Association of Commuter Rail Employees Local Chairperson (Hudson) Christopher Duffy, and Putnam County representative to the MTA Board Neal Zuckerman.