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Riskiest railroad crossing in region to undergo $800K safety remodel

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ELMWOOD PARK, New Jersey (PIX11) -- The most dangerous railroad crossing in the tri-state area is getting an upgrade. PIX11 caught on camera cars getting stuck beyond the safety gates repeatedly on Midland Avenue in Elmwood Park, New Jersey. Now transit officials will spend $800,000 dollars to make the crossing safer.

The upgrades come during a renewed focus on crossing safety. The deadly Metro-North train crash in Valhalla sparked a push by federal legislators to secure more funding for improvements. Congressman Bill Pascrell, who represents parts of Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties, wrote a letter to New Jersey’s Department of Transportation urging them to take action at the crossing in Elmwood Park.

“There have been 40 accidents here, in just 29 years,” said Rep. Pascrell, “people’s lives have been lost.”

The federal railroad administration says train-into-car crashes are more likely to happen at this crossing, than at any other in the tri-state area.

Cars pass the safety gates at this railroad crossing on Midland Avenue in Elmwood Park multiple times a day. PIX11 witnessed 10 vehicles getting stuck on the wrong side of the safety gates in just several hours. In one instance, we caught five cars on camera stuck in a traffic jam on the tracks, as a train chugged toward them. The drivers were able to all squeeze onto one side of the tracks at the last minute, resulting in a near miss.

“I saw your camera shots last time you were here. And those camera shots were more… people should see them,” said Rep. Pascrell, “It’s education. Engineering, education and enforcement is the answer to solving this problem.”

The New Jersey Department of Transportation is listening. The state will cover $500,000 of the $800,000 plan for improvements in Elmwood Park. The federal government will cover $300,000.

New traffic signals will be installed that are programmed to keep traffic from getting backed up onto the tracks.

“They call it a queue sensor, that will alert drivers along here,” said Pascrell, “as to what is happening ahead of them. Because if you go down on the northern part, on the northern side of this track, you cannot tell when you’re coming up towards this track.”

The tracks on Midland Avenue cross over the road on a diagonal and they sit atop a small hill. Drivers coming up and over the tracks cannot always see if there is room on the other side to cross over safely.

Other upgrades include painting the ground around the tracks, including words that will say: “DO NOT BLOCK THE BOX”.

Fred Arrigo welcomes these changes. His family’s business, NorthEast Building Supply, sits next to the crossing. He says cars get stuck on the wrong side of the safety gates everyday.

“It happens all the time. It’s just the way it is situated. It’s something we gotta live with. Maybe now with all this news coverage, something will get done to the benefit,” said Arrigo.

The safety upgrades are expected to take three months to install. A spokesman for the Department of Transportation says construction should start in a couple weeks. Midland Avenue will be closed for a period of two weeks during the project, NJDOT says they will put out an alert when detours will be in  effect.