Sen. Charles Schumer on Sunday announced a plan that will nearly double funding to eliminate hazards at railroad crossings nationwide, including on Long Island, to help avert crashes such as the recent Metro-North train collision that killed six people in Valhalla.
"This will provide new resources to states and localities to make much-needed improvements to dangerous railroad crossings," said Schumer (D-N.Y.), who held a news conference with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.
The funding program would "focus on our most dangerous crossings," said Schumer, whose proposal will increase a $220 million funding program by $50 million per year for the next four years.
The money will help communities improve safety at railroad crossings with upgrades to signal and lighting and gate systems. The proposal, to be introduced to the Senate in two weeks, will also include a grant program to pay for engineering studies needed to review technological solutions to antiquated rail crossings, Schumer said.
To be eligible for the $100 million annual program that would be in effect for four years, the railroad crossing must have had "a major loss of life or multiple serious bodily injuries" in the past two years. The federal funds could also be used for programs on how to safely cross railroad tracks.
Mitchell Pally, who chairs the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board's Long Island Rail Road Committee, welcomed the proposed funds: "We can survey our crossings to see which ones are the worst ones and make them safer."
However, educational programs already exist on crossing safety awareness, Pally said, and "the LIRR already does everything it can to make the crossings safer by using top signal and gate equipment."
However, "as the technology gets safer you still can't eliminate human nature . . ." he said.
MTA spokesman Salvatore Arena said, "Safety is the MTA's top priority and we welcome the support of Senators Schumer and Blumenthal in the effort to make our system as safe as possible." The funding would also bolster the MTA's capital improvement budget, he said.
Schumer cited Federal Railroad Administration data that listed Brentwood, Central Islip, Wyandanch and Bethpage as having dangerous crossings.
In 1982, an LIRR train struck a van, whose driver was determined to have been drinking, killing nine teens in Mineola. It remains the deadliest crossing accident in the region in decades.
Between 2005 and 2014, there were 341 railway grade crossing incidents that resulted in 59 fatalities and 96 injuries in New York, according to Schumer's office.
"Without the decisive steps we urge, rail grade crossings will continue to be accidents waiting to happen -- in fact, accidents happening daily and repeatedly . . ." Blumenthal said.