Schumer wants FRA to do more to ensure safety of rail-crossing signals, rail cars

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) this week called on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to step up safety measures at rail crossings and review safety procedures for unattended rail cars, following two separate incidents in New York.

On the latter, Schumer urged the FRA to review policies and procedures for unattended trains in order to project residents from runaway rail cars. Schumer’s call for action followed a July incident in Oneida County, N.Y., in which a teenager set free an unmanned rail car, which proceeded to roll 3 miles down the track through various neighborhoods until it crashed into Union Station in Utica, N.Y. No one was injured, but the incident caused more than $1 million in damage and put lives in danger, Schumer said in a press release.

UticaTrainAccident“The fact that this accident did not seriously injure anyone is nothing short of a miracle,” said Schumer. “But questions still remain over how an unattended freight car could be so easily accessed and sent barreling into a busy community. If a 13-year-old could do it with such ease, imagine what an individual wishing to inflict harm on local residents could do.”

Schemer suggested the FRA consider changing existing policy to include installing locks on rail-car hand brakes, requiring more redundant braking systems and other practices to prevent people from being able to access a train.

On rail-crossing safety, Schumer cited the need for new technology at rail crossings in response to the FRA’s investigation of 81 at-grade crossings in Rochester, N.Y. In June, Schumer asked the FRA to investigate the crossings in reaction to a fatal accident between a driver and an Amtrak train. In the incident, the driver was attempting to drive his vehicle around dropped crossing gates when he was hit by the Amtrak train.

The incident prompted reports from Rochester residents who said the crossing gates often drop down when a train is not approaching, which conditioned motorists to ignore the gates and signals. Although the gates were functioning properly at the time of this particular accident, Schumer said the FRA’s examination of the gates in Monroe County found 88 minor defects at the crossings, which are owned by four railroad companies that run through the county.

The defects have since been corrected, but the FRA has agreed to re-inspect the crossings to make sure the defects don’t occur again, Schumer said. The FRA also discovered that some gates were triggered to close at the wrong times because they went into a “fail-safe” mode that can be triggered by weather, vandalism or interference from track maintenance teams. As a result, Schumer called on the FRA to examine ways to reduce false activations of rail-crossing warning systems.