Police Ramp up Rail-Crossing Citations After Recent Crashes

29 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Common-sense, no-cost fixfor truck-train crashes rejected.

VALHALLA, N.Y. But experts tell The Associated Press that it won’t keep trains and trucks from crashing together unless both industries use a common-sense solution available right away: actually talking with each other before crossing into each other’s territory. “It is crazy that this doesn’t get coordinated with the railroad, considering how difficult this operation can be and how long it takes to cross it,” Rob Molloy, acting director of highway safety for the National Transportation Safety Board, told The AP on Tuesday. — A series of crashes involving trains and passenger vehicles — including deadly collisions in New York and California last month — have prompted police to ramp up ticket enforcement at railroad crossings.

Unfortunately, no federal law or regulation backed by stiff criminal or civil penalties specifically requires coordination between truck and train operators, the AP found after reviewing state and federal regulations and safety recommendations and interviewing dozens of experts. The Federal Railroad Administration has called for police departments nationwide to add patrols and issue more citations as the first step in a safety campaign, and drivers in the New York suburbs are already seeing the results.

No one involved has taken any public responsibility for failing to coordinate the Halifax crossing in advance: not drivers of the truck or its pilot and chase cars, not the trooper escorting the load, not the trucking company, nor the state transportation agency officials who approved the planned route and required that a copy be shared with the State Highway Patrol. Police from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority are issuing six times as many summonses as they did last year to drivers who go around gates, stop on the tracks or drive distracted at grade crossings on the Metro-North and Long Island commuter railroads, spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

No one in this chain was tasked with making another copy for the railroad, or calling CSX Transportation Inc. dispatchers to warn approaching trains to go slow. Officers wrote out 249 tickets between Jan. 1 and March 22, compared with 41 in a similar period last year. “Ninety-four percent of grade crossing accidents are linked to a driver’s behavior,” said Sarah Feinberg, the Railroad Administration’s acting administrator. Since then, a Metrolink commuter train struck a pickup truck in Oxnard, California, fatally injuring the engineer, and an Amtrak train slammed into a tractor-trailer in Halifax, North Carolina, injuring 55 people. On Saturday, a light rail train in Los Angeles struck a car that turned in front of it outside the University of Southern California, seriously injuring the driver and train operator and leaving 19 other passengers hurt.

An eyewitness said Black spent 15 to 20 minutes fussing over the load and then moving back and forth in the crossing before the crossing arms came down. And industry groups representing drivers, trucking companies, railroad owners, trains, state troopers and state road and rail agencies don’t want their people held responsible, said attorney Bob Pottroff, whose Kansas firm files injury lawsuits in rail accidents. “As soon as someone acknowledges responsibility to try to solve the problem, their own belief system is that that opens them up to liability,” said Pottroff, who describes himself as “the only guy foolhardy enough” to make a living from fighting for rail safety. “The reality is this industry makes billions of dollars running freight through communities at 80 mph. He has asked the Railroad Administration for a “deep dive” investigation to determine the nation’s most dangerous crossings and which safety devices are best at preventing collisions. The NTSB campaigned to hold truck drivers responsible for warning railroad dispatchers ahead of risky crossings after a similar accident in Florida in 2000.

Maloney recently helped push legislation through the House that would make $300 million available to allow local governments to make safety improvements at rail crossings or eliminate them. CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay wouldn’t discuss whether requiring coordination would be helpful, but said her company “assists drivers who contact us to safely transport oversized loads across our railroad tracks.” The nonprofit, which focuses on rail safety education, is expanding its partnership with the MTA. “People have to know what these warning signs and devices mean and what they’re supposed to do when they see them,” Rose said. “I think sometimes people don’t know.

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