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$5M In Rail Upgrades Small Step For Train Safety, Westchester Widower Says

Alan Brody of Edgemont with his wife, Ellen, 49, who died on Feb. 3, 2015, when her Mercedes SUV collided with a Metro-North train in Valhalla. Five commuters from Westchester and Danbury, Conn., also were killed. Photo Credit: File photo
Newly painted pavement warnings at the Commerce Street railroad crossing, facing the Taconic State Parkway Extension in Hawthorne. Prior street markings were barely visible at night or in bad weather. This is the site of the Feb. 3, 2015 fatal crash. Photo Credit: Provided
This railroad crossing warning sign was recently installed along the Saw Mill River Parkway in Chappaqua. Photo Credit: Provided
A Metro-North railroad employee putting yellow paint near a platform warning sign in Rye on Friday. Photo Credit: Jon Craig
A new warning sign for truck drivers. It was installed on Commerce Street just before a blind curve near the railroad crossing at the Taconic State Parkway Extension in Valhalla. Photo Credit: Provided

U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey detailed $5.2 million in railroad crossing upgrades during a news conference with federal officials Monday at the North White Plains train station.

But the widower of Ellen Brody -- the 49-year-old Edgemont woman whose SUV collided with a train at Commerce Street in Valhalla last year -- called the measures "a small step toward overall rail safety" locally and nationwide.

Alan Brody told Daily Voice that the U.S. remains far behind South Korea, Japan and other counties in modernizing its railroad system. The multi-million dollar fixes announced by Lowey "are designed to protect decades-old technology, not advance safety," according to Brody. His wife's collision with the northbound train on Feb. 3, 2015, led to an explosion and fire that killed five male commuters from Westchester and Danbury, Conn. -- the deadliest crash in Metro-North history.

Lowey, a Harrison Democrat who represents Westchester and Rockland counties, made the announcement with Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Thomas Prendergast.

"In recent years, tragic rail accidents and many near misses have been painful reminders of the number of dangerous rail grade crossings in the Lower Hudson Valley," Lowey said.

"A safe railroad network requires continuous investment and upgrades," Feinberg said. "The reason New York is getting such a significant amount of this $25 million pot is because they are thinking creatively about improving grade crossings, they are laser-focused on thinking outside the box."

Brody reacted, "You can't think out of the box, and be laser-focused."

Brody pointed out that Metro-North recently added two more directional signs for motorists at the crossing where his wife was killed, "creating more clutter and confusion, not improving safety." (Photos of the new signs are shown above and on Brody's blog which can be accessed by clicking here .)

The first $1.35 million grant will add highway traffic signal "pre-emption devices" to seven crossings on Metro-North’s Harlem and Port Jervis lines to activate traffic signals at intersections and allow traffic to enter the highway prior to the activation of the railroad grade crossing warning systems and gates. Such a system might have prevented the fatal 2015 accident because a red light traffic signal on the Taconic State Parkway kept Brody's SUV on the railroad tracks in bumper-to-bumper traffic as a train approached, authorities have said.

In addition to Commerce Street, Cleveland Street and Lakeview Avenue in Valhalla, the Stevens Avenue crossing in Hawthorne and the Roaring Brook Road intersection in Chappaqua would get the technology upgrade.

As part of the second project, $1.9 million in upgrades will be made to three grade crossings to mitigate hazardous conditions between highway and rail traffic, including at Virginia Road in North White Plains.

Finally, the third grant totals $1.9 million to install closed-circuit cameras to record traffic at 43 Metro-North grade crossings to investigate specific incidents and analyze crossing patterns to improve safety. Crossings receiving cameras include Hudson Avenue in Peekskill, Virginia Road in North White Plains, the three Valhalla crossings and Chappaqua's Roaring Brook Road. In Rockland County, cameras will be installed at Municipal Plaza/Ballard Road and Washington Avenue, both in the Village of Sloatsburg.

"With over 212,000 rail crossings in this country, we must make safety improvements a priority," Lowey said. "Horrible crashes, near misses at rail crossings in recent years have been a wake-up call."

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