The Metropolitan Transportation Authority flier reads, “Isn’t your life worth the wait? Don’t race the gate, play it safe.” It’s part of the campaign to remind motorists and pedestrians to take precaution when driving through or walking across railroad crossings.
Long Island Rail Road president, Phillip Eng, said that there are 296 crossings on Long Island, and that they’ve seen an uptick in motorists, in particular, ending up on the tracks. “The first priority is better visibility,” he said. “Drivers … for whatever reason are turning onto tracks, not parallel roads. We’re in the process of installing reflective delineators and striping [at all crossings.]”
According to Eng, there were 29 incidents of passenger vehicles ending up on the tracks in 2017, and that there had been 21 such incidents through May. Eng said that some motorists said they had been following directions from the GPS app Waze when accidently turning onto the tracks.
On June 6, the MTA announced that the LIRR and Metro-North would be teaming up to add an alert, notifying drivers when they’re crossing the tracks. It was implemented in the first 10 locations on June 7, the 10th International Level Crossing Awareness Day. More crossings will be added until they cover all 296 locations.
“Many people don’t understand how fast trains move,” Eng said. “Never gamble.” He hopes that by increasing awareness, making crossings more obvious and working with metropolitan police departments and MTA police, that people become more aware of the possible danger at railroad crossings.
With more people outside in the Five Towns during the warmer months, Det. Maureen Roach of the 4th Precinct said officers do try to patrol crossing areas more often. According to Roach, trains in the Five Towns have not struck pedestrians in the last year, but she stressed the importance of crossing only when permitted to do so. “Whether on foot or in vehicle they should cross only when safely indicated to do so,” she said. “Do not assume because a train may have passed in one direction that it is safe even with gates still in down position. A train may very well be approaching from the opposite direction.”
The MTA runs safety awareness programs for schools and community groups. Peninsula Public Library, near the Lawrence LIRR station, held a similar program of its own a few summers ago, Library Director, Carolynn Matulewicz said. “We get lots of kids asking us for books on trains,” she said. “We also want to educate kids about staying safe, so we’d be more than happy to hand out any safety materials too.”
Matulewicz compared the situation with the tracks to the crosswalks they have in front of the library. “Some people don’t know that they have to stop for pedestrians and speed right through,” she said. “As important it is to teach kids about safety you also have to get adults to follow the rules.”
She added that they would definitely look to do more railroad safety courses, especially with the possibility of building a new library that will be closer to the Lawrence station and the Lawrence Avenue crossing. Matulewicz said that PPL is looking to make an agreement with the MTA where children can take the train to Lawrence from other nearby stations for free using their library card.
The MTA hopes to spread its safety messages using hand-outs, social media postings and announcements at LIRR stations. “If one life is saved then it’s worth all the work that we’ve put in,” Eng said.