WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Nearly a month after the deadly train crash at a railroad grade crossing in Valhalla, federal and local officials gathered for a press conference at a similar intersection in nearby Chappaqua to make the case for federal legislation meant to improve safety.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, whose district includes parts of Westchester and Putnam, announced that the House of Representatives will vote this week on a railroad passenger bill that will include a grant-funding program for safety measures and $35 million in financing to deploy Positive Train Control, which involves WiFi and GPS technologies to make sure that trains can be stopped automatically.
The grant program, which would include $300 million, would help to finance the replacement of grade crossings with bridges or tunnels. Under the program, 90 percent of a project's cost would be paid for with federal funding.
The congressman also argued that PTC can be linked with technology at crossings.
“Creating technology that stops trains remotely is a critical first step to linking trains’ technology to warning systems at crossings -- like weight sensors, like motion detectors – that we use in everyday life all the time.”
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, whose district includes the crossings in Valhalla and Chappaqua, voiced her support for her colleague's measures and for curtailing crossings.
“Where we can, we have got to eliminate the ones that are most dangerous."
Lowey also announced that she is pursuing an amendment that will provide $10 million in funding for traffic enforcement and education.
The representatives noted the vast majority of rail fatalities, a figure of around 95 percent, involve grade crossings.
The Chappaqua grade crossing nearby was cited for its own drawbacks, including being adjacent to a ramp interchange for the Saw Mill River Parkway and its proximity to Horace Greeley High School. Regarding the latter, Lowey touched upon the young and inexperienced drivers who cross it.
Lowey and Maloney represent parts of the town of New Castle, which includes the hamlet of Chappaqua.
New Castle Supervisor Rob Greenstein, who is seeking federal funding to building an overpass to replace the grade crossing in Chappaqua, noted that the town has land available for it, which was donated by the founders of Reader's Digest.
The former Reader's Digest campus, now called Chappaqua Crossing, is adjacent to the area.
“I believe there’s a will it do it," Greenstein said. "There’s certainly a need to do it, and I thank Congresswoman Lowey and Congressman Maloney for their leadership on this issue.”
New Castle residents Robert Dirks and Joseph Nadol were among the dead in Valhalla, while Ellen Brody, who was killed when the train struck her car last month, worked in a Chappaqua jewelry shop, Daily Voice has reported.
Members of the New Castle Town Board and Chappaqua Board of Education were at the conference, as was Michael Kaplowitz, chairman of Westchester's Board of Legislators. Evan Eisenhandler, who is executive director of Operation Lifesaver, a group dedicated to education regarding railroad track and crossing safety, also attended.
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