BRENTWOOD, Long Island (PIX11) -- How risky is your local railroad crossing? If you were to rank every rail crossing in the New York metropolitan area by the rate of accidents predicted to happen, Brentwood, N.Y. would stand out.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, the hamlet is home to the #2 and #3 most dangerous crossings in the region, located at Brentwood Road and 5th Avenue in Brentwood. Midland Avenue in Elmwood Park, N.J. is #1.
Ninety-five percent of all deaths involving trains happen at rail crossings. In Brentwood, there have been 5 deaths in 5 years, from 2009-2013.
PIX11 has been watching the Brentwood Avenue crossing and found cars stopping on the tracks repeatedly when a red light backed up traffic. We saw at least 5 instances of this occurring within 5 hours. Seventy-six trains come speeding through this intersection daily at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour.
In 2013, a car was hit and dragged a half mile down the tracks. Investigators said the driver tried to go around the crossing gates. Two people in the car were killed. But the majority of those killed in Brentwood rail crossing crashes were pedestrians.
“It is very dangerous to cross over these tracks,” said Karen, who did not give her last name but says she walks over the Brentwood tracks everyday, “more needs to be done to preserve our safety.”
Another person who spoke to PIX 11 said he spots trains stopped on the tracks at the Brentwood Avenue crossing several times each week, while waiting for a bus. Another pedestrian says he complained about the crossing’s safety, as recently as several weeks ago.
“We’ve been complaining since like 2003 about this thing,” said Frank Lee. He said in addition to seeing cars stopped on the tracks, the town has neglected to clear snow and ice from pedestrian walkways near and on the crossing. The sidewalks were covered in some spots by the Brentwood train station and the Brentwood Avenue crossing today.
Since the deadly Metro North commuter train crash at a crossing in Valhalla on February 4th, PIX 11 has been taking a closer look at the safety of rail crossings. We visited the riskiest crossing the region last month. The crossing is located on Midland Avenue in Elmwood Park, N.J. At this location, drivers are appear prone to stopping on the tracks.
The tracks cross over Midland Avenue diagonally, making the layout more unique than other crossings rated to be among the most dangerous. The crossing gates and signs are set further away from the railroad tracks. Cars frequently drive right past the gates, which then close behind them, while the tracks are in front. Sometimes, multiple cars get trapped on the wrong side of the gates and a traffic jam develops on the railroad tracks. An episode like this was caught on camera again and again by PIX 11, the worst case being a 5-car traffic jam on the tracks with a train coming.
“We’re gonna end up having an accident!”
That’s what one driver screamed while the train sped toward her van. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. But at least 3 people have died at this crossing since 2006. Residents who live within eyeshot of the Midland Avenue crossing can recall crash after crash, including one where a tractor trailer was flung off the road into a billboard sign.
PIX11 has been asking lawmakers and state officials if they plan to try and improve crossing safety, in the wake of the close calls caught on camera in New Jersey, the tragedy in Valhalla and two subsequent, non-fatal crossing crashes on Long Island.
A bill has passed through the House of Representatives that includes $300 million for safety improvements to rail crossings. When it will come up for a vote in the Senate has not yet been determined.
In New Jersey, the Department of Transportation and N.J. Transit have pledged to make changes to the #1 riskiest rail crossing in the region before the end of the year. A spokesman for the D.O.T. says an announcement on the plans will be made this week.