VALHALLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A report on New York railroad crossings is five months late, and now, lawmakers and the husband of a woman who died at a crossing are demanding action by the Department of Transportation.
As CBS2’s Brian Conybeare reported, the safety report is required by law and was due back in April. But so far, there has been no sign of it – and advocates say the delay could cost people their lives.
Six people lost their lives at a terrible Metro-North Railroad crash just off the Taconic State Parkway in Valhalla two and a half years ago. State lawmakers and one victim’s husband are still pushing for safety changes, but they are not making much progress.
Metro-North trains still speed through the Commerce Street at-grade crossing after the deadliest crash on the railroad ever – which happened in on Feb. 3, 2015. Six people – including five rail passengers just heading home on a Harlem Line train – were killed when Ellen Brody of Edgemont got her Mercedes Benz sport-utility vehicle stuck on the tracks and it was hit by a train during a rush hour traffic jam.
“I’m here because I don’t want this to happen to your wife,” said Ellen Brody’s husband, Alan Brody. “I don’t want this to happen to your friends; your loved ones.”
Ellen Brody died in the accident, and last week, she was blamed by federal investigators for causing it. Brody joined state lawmakers Monday at the crash site to demand a safety study of grade crossings be completed by the state Department of Transportation.
“There’s been discussion in various places of closing grade crossings, putting in bridges,” said state Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D-Greenburgh/Mount Pleasant). “You can’t do any of that until you have a serious study.”
Even though the study is required by state law, the deadline came and went.
“Right now, as we wait, motorists, commuters, the public is at risk,” said state Sen. David Carlucci (D-New City).
“We need to upgrade these rail crossings. It is imperative,” said state Sen. Terrence Murphy (R-Shrub Oak/Carmel). “Between Westchester, Rockland and Putnam, there’s 71 rail crossings.”
In fact, there are more than 5,000 grade crossings statewide, and lawmakers say most haven’t been upgraded in 50 to 100 years.
No one from the state Department of Transportation would answer CBS2’s questions on camera, but a spokesman said they are working on the study and were waiting for the National Transportation Safety Board’s final report on the crash before it is released.
“We’ve been calling the Department of Transportation and all we get back is ‘we’re working on it, we’re working on it, we’re working on it,'” Abinanti said. “We don’t know what that means…. ‘We’re working on it,’ is not enough. We don’t want to wait for the next accident to happen, we want to prevent the next accident.”
Alan Brody said he once worked on a railroad in his native South Africa. He blames the crossing’s design, signals and signage for the crash and said he won’t give up until safety improvements are in place that could have saved his wife.
“It’s the only way that I can honor her and the victims — the many victims of this,” he said. “This is my obligation. This is the only way that I can pay them back.”
The state DOT said they will incorporate any recommendations from federal regulators into their study, but they would not say when that study will be complete.