New laws aimed at rail-crossing safety

ALBANY -- New York will expand safety measures at grade crossings and review the precautions at rail crossings after deadly accidents in recent years.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed two bills late Monday: One will require frequent inspections of traffic control devices at highway-rail crossings; the other will require the state to study rail crossings.

“Too often, New Yorkers have experienced tragedies at grade-level railroad crossings," Assemblyman David Buchwald, D-White Plains, who sponsored one of the bills, said Tuesday in a statement.

One of the bills Cuomo signed will direct the state Department of Transportation to study each at-grade rail crossings and make recommendations to improve them by April 1.

"We need to seriously examine why the number of crossing accidents has increased in New York, and what we can do to fix them as soon as possible," Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, Rockland County, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement.

In February 2015, an SUV stopped on the tracks in Valhalla, Westchester County, and was hit by a Metro-North Railroad train, killing the SUV's driver and five train passengers.

The accident helped spur an agreement in June among Cuomo and state lawmakers to bolster safety measures at the crossings.

Cuomo signed the bill Monday night that will require every railroad company, municipality and state agency to conduct inspections of traffic-control devices at least every other year.

Fines are also increasing for drivers who don't obey train signs, ranging from $150 for a first offense and $1,000 for a third offense within 30 months.

The law will also require the state to update its regulations to align with federal reporting standards.

Railroad companies will have to submit railroad bridge inspection reports to the state each year -- which they already do for the federal government.

The law also increases penalties for not complying, such as up to $5,000 against railroad companies if they don't notify the state of an accident.

Cuomo said in his approval message that railroads have sought some technical amendments to the bill that lawmakers can revisit next year when they return to Albany for a six-month session.

The bills Monday were among 61 he signed and 72 he vetoed.


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