Accident potential high at local intersection
Senator Chuck Schumer recently held a press conference at Washington Avenue and St. James South, the site of an infrequently used grade crossing where a green light signaled to drivers to proceed as a train traveled through the intersection. The potential accident was brought to the attention of Schumer’s office when Ken Falcon was traveling north on Washington Avenue with his 3-year-old son on the way to a shopping trip at the Garden City B.J.’s location. On this inclement day, the 31-year-old Rockville Centre resident came to this intersection as a freight train was rumbling through but a green light indicated it was safe to proceed. The sight shocked Falcon enough to snap a photo with his phone and forward it to Schumer’s office.
“We were driving down the street and I noticed there was a train coming so I obviously stopped. But the light was green, which was surprising, especially since it was raining out and it wasn’t a nice afternoon,” Falcon said. “They said they usually have police officers or guys from the MTA stop over here but no one was here this day.”
This particular rail line is used for freight and not commuter use and was once how Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus would transport the components of its show whenever it would come to play Nassau Coliseum. It is one of a trio of Garden City crossings that don’t have a gate or flashing lights to alert drivers that trains are approaching—the other two are at Clinton Road and Quentin Roosevelt Boulevard. According to the MTA, this crossing—known as the Garden City-Mitchell Field Secondary—is currently used to support and transport materials used for track work. The rail line spurs off the Hempstead LIRR commuter line and on to Washington Avenue. From here, the track continues on to Nassau Community College. The circus would use the Garden City yard to store its boxcars. At the time, law enforcement would block off the grade crossings as the train pulled through. Now that the tracks are used to solely support track work, police no longer block off any of these three crossings.
“The MTA needs to realize that this isn’t a safe intersection as it is now. What we’re asking for is that the MTA and the LIRR consult with the community and see how safety can be improved in a way that’s constant with the beauty of this neighborhood and that should happen right away,” Schumer said. “The Garden City intersection is an accident waiting to happen. Since Ken and some of the neighbors called our office, we looked into it and in terms of the actual federal safety standards, this doesn’t work.”
Schumer also referenced the need to avoid another incident like what happened in Valhalla, NY, where on the evening of Feb. 3, 2015, a commuter train on Metro-North Railroad’s Harlem Line struck a passenger car at a grade crossing near Valhalla. Six people were killed and 15 were injured in what was the deadliest accident in Metro-North’s history. Schumer has been involved with pushing for rail grade crossings, having introduced the 2015 Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Act, which provides $50 million each fiscal year to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to allocate to states and communities for programs and improvements to heighten and improve grade crossing safety. Valhalla residents requested and received gates and warning signals. Schumer is looking for the local community to sit down with representatives of the MTA and LIRR to come up with what he thinks will be a fairly simple solution.
“I don’t think you need a gate here. You just need better lighting. A red light when the train is coming through for instance or a flashing yellow one,” he said. “Each crossing is different and has different solutions. There is money to deal with crossings and there are federal dollars for this, but no one size fits all. In this case, the trains don’t come through that frequently and the lighting is probably the right solution. But again, I leave it up to the MTA, the LIRR, the FRA and local community leaders to come up with a solution everybody likes.”