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Railroad-Crossing Safety A Priority Year After Deadly Westchester Crash

Broadcast journalists were present Wednesday afternoon at the Commerce Street crossing in Valhalla on the one-year anniversary of the deadly collision. A news truck is pictured in the distance.
Broadcast journalists were present Wednesday afternoon at the Commerce Street crossing in Valhalla on the one-year anniversary of the deadly collision. A news truck is pictured in the distance. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
A Metro-North train passes through the Commerce Street crossing in Valhalla during heavy rain on Wednesday.
A Metro-North train passes through the Commerce Street crossing in Valhalla during heavy rain on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Traffic stops at the Roaring Brook Road grade crossing in Chappaqua.
Traffic stops at the Roaring Brook Road grade crossing in Chappaqua. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
A Metro-North train speeds through the Roaring Brook Road grade crossing in Chappaqua.
A Metro-North train speeds through the Roaring Brook Road grade crossing in Chappaqua. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

VALHALLA, N.Y. -- Scrutiny of grade crossings remains a focus a year after six people were killed when a train struck at car at a a Valhalla intersection.

The Commerce Street crossing, where the collision happened, is one of four such locations within the town of Mount Pleasant, Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi said.

While no action has been taken to repave the crossings or to upgrade signage, Fulgenzi said that an inquiry is ongoing by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) into the condition of the Commerce Street location.

Fulgenzi said that the town's engineer assisted the NTSB by conducting a traffic study of the local crossings, which could be used to estimate what the traffic impact would be should a closure take place.

If the town engineer recommends a crossing closure, Fulgenzi explained that the Mount Pleasant Town Board would decide whether for petition for one. The town would take up its request with the state Department of Transportation (DOT) and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which controls Metro-North.

The town may need to present its own traffic alternative in connection with a closure, Fulgenzi added.

The DOT and the MTA have jurisdiction at the crossings instead of the town, Fulgenzi said.

The Commerce Street crossing is part of a convoluted traffic pattern in its vicinity. The train tracks run parallel to the Taconic State Parkway, while a traffic light is between the two.

A similar situation exists at a busy railroad crossing in Chappaqua. There, Roaring Brook Road passes over the tracks before crossing the Saw Mill River Parkway. Like the Valhalla crossing, the Chappaqua intersection also has a traffic light between the two corridors.

New Castle Supervisor Rob Greenstein, who made a big push to make the location safer following the Valhalla collision reiterated his position in an interview.

Greenstein noted that the town has worked with the MTA and DOT on improving situation. A series of upgrades at the site were made, Greenstein recalled, including repaving, new markings, new lighting and new signage.

The town police and MTA police have also stepped up traffic enforcement in the area, Greenstein added, issuing tickets as a result.

For New Castle, the intersection's safety was in addition to being part of the Valhalla tragedy; two of the victims on the train lived in town while the vehicle driver worked locally.

Going forward, Greenstein would like to see the crossing closed and replaced with an overpass.

“That area's calling for a bridge."

A bridge, Greenstein explained, would also eliminate the traffic light at the intersection. The crossing's proximity to Horace Greeley High School is also a concern of the supervisor's.

On the legislative end, Greenstein noted that a bill in the state senate calling for the installation of cameras at railroad crossings was approved last year by 63 to zero. The bill was backed by state Sen. Terrence Murphy, who district includes both the Valhalla and Chappaqua grade crossings.

Greenstein said thatt he bill will be amended, however, to give the MTA involvement in the installation of the cameras.

Federal funding to make the crossings safer may come in the future.

In a joint announcement, Representatives Sean Patrick Maloney and Nita Lowey, whose congressional districts cover New Castle and Mount Pleasant, touted a series of budgetary updates.

The updates, part of a 2016 omnibus budgeting bill, include $350 million for improving grade crossings with structural changes; $6.5 million for a media campaign to raise awareness about grade-crossing safety; $25 million for new train-safety technology; and $25 million dedicated to rail infrastructure.

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