Tragic death of young dad on New Jersey Transit tracks spurs change

RAMSEY, N.J. — Thomas "Tommy" Ryan, 27, commuted to the city from Bergen County everyday. He was killed on the tracks in June 2016. He left behind a son, who is now 4 years old.

"His train was on the other side of the tracks and he crossed the tracks to get to his train," said Jamie Ryan, Tommy's uncle.

Tommy commuted from the Ramsey Main Street Station.

"A train came 70 mph through here in the opposite direction that struck and killed him," Jamie Ryan said.

After his nephew's death, Jamie Ryan has spent the past year lobbying lawmakers to make safety upgrades at the crossing. They broke ground on Wednesday.

PIX11 broke the story that the state would commit to a full safety overhaul.

"It’s bittersweet. But hopefully this is gonna help reduce deaths," Ryan saidl. "He would not want anybody else to be hurt here."

New safety gates, lights and signs will be installed at the crossing on Main Street. Skirt gates are also an important part of the safety upgrade. As pedestrians have ducked under the existing safety bar in the past to run across the tracks while a train is coming.

"It comes down very quickly," said a man who works in the area. "The trains don't slow down."

In the past 5 years, two people have died at this location. It's ranked No. 11 in the state among the most dangerous rail crossings in New Jersey.

Ramsey Main Street will remain closed to cars with detours in place until 7 p.m. on Aug. 10. The New Jersey Department of Transportation will reopen the roadway if work is completed sooner.

A temporary walkway has been set up to enable pedestrians to cross the tracks and businesses around the crossing remain open.

The Ryan family thanked Gov. Chris Christie's staff and State Sen. Gerald Cardinale for their assistance in getting this done.

"The only person who was disappointing that would not meet with me ever, was really insensitive, I felt, was the mayor of Ramsey," Ryan said.

Ramsey Mayor Deidre Dillon said she supports the safety changes and that the borough requested them. She stated that the Ryan family threatened to sue Ramsey.

"I was advised by the borough attorney not to meet with him," Dillon said.

But Jamie Ryan said that he was never apart of any lawsuit against the borough. He said an intent to sue was filed against Ramsey and NJ Transit by Robert Ryan and Patricia Lenihan, Tommy Ryan's parents.

There is one safety upgrade that the Ryan family is still pushing for:

"Trains go 70 mph through this small downtown," Jamie Ryan said. "And my understanding through NJ Transit is that is not going to change anytime soon.”

NJDOT said the Main Street project is part of a larger safety initiative that began in June and will be completed by the end of summer with an estimated cost of $566,000.

NJDOT repairs, upgrades or removes approximately 30 crossings every year as part of a federally funded crossing safety program.