No changes at Valhalla rail crossing where Metro-North train killed 6

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Jim Hoffer has the details.

Nearly a year after a Metro-North train crash killed six people, not a single change has been made at the crossing where it happened.

So if the government insists the area is safe, what are they hiding in heavily redacted documents they've released to the Eyewitness News Investigators?

The government says the crossing in Valhalla meets all safety standards, but others insist it's still very dangerous.

It has been 274 days since six people died in the deadliest accident in Metro-North's history. Since then, not a single safety improvement has been made at the rail crossing, even though problems were identified years before and safety upgrades planned.

The Investigators have been trying to find out what the state transportation department saw as the problem at the crossing and why it appears officials failed to fix it.

"The document meant the difference between my wife's life and all those other folks that went with her," said Alan Brody, whose wife Ellen died in the crash.

The documents show that the project would have eliminated rail and highway safety hazards at the crossing at a cost of $140,000. The federal government had agreed to pay for 90 percent of the project, but when the state failed to move forward with the improvements, the funding was pulled back.

The DOT says they made most of the safety improvements identified in the 2009 document, including adding two "do not stop on the track" signs. They also installed technology to synchronize traffic at the rail crossing with the stop light on the Taconic Parkway.

But they decided against adding additional flashing red lights, and after the deadly collision in February, the DOT inspected the crossing and found no new safety measures were needed. A railroad crossing safety expert disagreed.

"This is a trap," said James Sotille, a former top railroad control and signal specialist for the federal government.

He agreed to look at the crossing at night, around the exact time the deadly collision occurred.

"It's a built in trap," he said. "I'm sorry, that's the way it is. I've been in this business 56 years, and I see something like that and, to me, that is a willful violation of people and their safety."

Among Sotille's long list of problems include a lack of any lighting to illuminate the crossing at night. Also, the signs are nearly useless at night, he said, because they are positioned out of the reach of car headlights. And then there's the absence of an audible alert.

"I mean, six people were killed," Sotille said. "Do we need a larger body count in order to get a corrected safety feature?"

State officials say they redacted parts of the 2009 project because it was an initial proposal, not a final decision, and therefore was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. The only part of the project the DOT said it did not complete was additional crossing lights. As for the lack of bells, DOT officials say that since there is no pedestrian traffic at the crossing, bells are not required. Instead, all trains must sound their horns.
Related Topics:
metro northmetro north accidenttrain crashtrain safetycar accidentinvestigatorsValhalla
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