Senators propose more funding for grade-crossing safety
NEW YORK (AP) - The government should spend more money safeguarding railroad crossings that are "accidents waiting to happen," two U.S. senators said Sunday.
Sens. Charles Schumer and Richard Blumenthal spoke at New York's Grand Central Terminal, the departure point for the Metro-North train that crashed into a car earlier this month in Valhalla, north of the city. The car's driver died, as did five train passengers.
Although the exact cause of the collision has not been determined, Ellen Brody's SUV was stuck inside railroad crossing gates moments before the train hit. Instead of backing up, she drove forward onto the tracks.
The lawmakers noted that more than 2,000 collisions occurred nationally in grade-crossing accidents in 2013, and more than 200 people died. Schumer and Blumenthal plan to introduce a bill later this month to fund engineering and safety upgrades for crossings across the country.
Blumenthal, D-Conn., said that on average, there's an accident every three hours at rail intersections that still rely on outdated signal and warning systems.
Schumer, D-N.Y., said more must be done.
"Many of New York's hundreds of rail-grade crossings are truly accidents waiting to happen, and it's critical that the federal government do more to make engineering upgrades at accident-prone crossings," he said.
The senators said that if the bill is enacted, funds would go to the Federal Railroad Administration and to states and localities for new lights and signals as well as education materials.
The Federal Highway Administration's railroad crossing program currently gets $220 million to eliminate dangers at the estimated 130,000 crossings across the country. The senators propose adding $50 million each year for four years.
"These are not just accidents waiting to happen," Blumenthal said. "They are accidents that are happening, and we can prevent the deaths."
For instance, he said, the gates at crossings should go up if they come down on something, as garage doors do.