Railroad Administration chief visits NY rail crossing, calls for enforcing safety regulations

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. – At a troublesome rail crossing on the road to a public high school, the head of the Federal Railroad Administration stumped Tuesday for increased education and enforcement of safety regulations at railway crossings.

Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg was promoting the agency’s safety campaign — prompted by fatal crashes in New York and California — which calls for increased police patrols and ticketing.

“If you’re ticketed for trying to beat a train, you’re much less likely to ever try that again,” she said.

Feinberg, U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and other officials gathered at the Metro-North Railroad crossing on Roaring Brook Road in Chappaqua, just a few miles up the line from a crossing in Valhalla, where six people died in February when a train slammed into an SUV on the tracks.

Local officials have called the crossing dangerous, with two close calls in recent weeks, and Lowey invited Feinberg to come up from Washington to see for herself. The crossing, like the one in Valhalla, is just yards from a busy highway and traffic often backs up at the crossing during rush hour. The driver in the Valhalla crash was in traffic and stopped on the tracks when the warning gates came down.

As cars and trains went through the Chappaqua crossing, Lowey noted that the road leads to Horace Greeley High School, which means some of the motorists using the crossing “may be new drivers, may not have experience with grade crossings.”

“We want to make sure drivers know what to do, and more important, what not to do,” she said.

The congresswoman said she would push for a public awareness campaign about railroad crossings, similar to the “Click it or Ticket” campaign for fastening seat belts.

Feinberg said, “The safest grade crossing is one that does not exist at all,” because overpasses are built. However, she said, “the reality is we are never going to be able to take care of every single grade crossing with a grade separation. We need education, we need enforcement and we need awareness.”

Joseph Giulietti, president of Metro-North, said the railroad was working with the state and the town of New Castle, which includes Chappaqua, to improve signs and make other improvements at the Rearing Brook Road crossing.

He also said that since Jan. 1, police from the parent Metropolitan Transportation Authority had issued 326 summonses to drivers at Metro-North or Long Island Rail Road crossings. Only 212 were issued all last year, spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.