By David Cruz
NJ Transit trains ran — presumably on schedule — through the Midland Avenue rail crossing in Elmwood Park this morning, interrupting some of the speeches as Congressman Bill Pascrell, DOT Commissioner Jamie Fox, Transit Executive Director Ronnie Hakim and other local elected officials gathered to congratulate one another for recent safety upgrades made to the rail crossing.
“This grade crossing … had 31 incidents in the past 40 years, 19 in the last 15 years,” noted Pascrell.
Including two fatalities, making this crossing number one on the Federal Railroad Administration list of most dangerous crossings in the region. In February, Pascrell wrote to Commissioner Fox asking for the agency to do something about the crossing. Eight hundred thousand dollars and four months later, officials say they think they’ve made this a much safer crossing.
“The grading of the road has changed, so the lines of sight have improved tremendously,” said Hakim. “The cleaning of the brush, as you mentioned. In addition, there’s some camera work that is going to be installed on some of these polls.”
Which will let safety personnel know if a vehicle is on the tracks when a train is approaching. It’ll also alert officials of major traffic buildups there, triggering signal changes to ease congestion. Hakim says the work will be completed by the end of summer.
“We believe that what we’re doing here will result in at least 40 percent reduction of any type of accidents,” predicted Fox.
Even with the good news at today’s announcement, Transit officials were still forced to answer questions about the generally bad transit news we’ve been having all year long. Director Hakim has avoided commenting publicly about the recent Amtrak power line failures that have meant long delays for NJ Transit customers. Last week, she blasted Amtrak. Today, she struck a diplomatic tone.
“What I would have offered to NJ Transit commuters is to be aware that we are watching very carefully the work that Amtrak is doing and are hoping never to see that kind of a repeat again,” she said. On whether Amtrak has done enough, Hakim said, “They’re doing everything necessary. That’s our engineering judgement.”
Fox acknowledged that a new tunnel to New York is a priority.
“There’s no question about it,” he said. “That takes billions of dollars and that takes money. We, all of us, are going to have to get serious about making sure that elected officials and government officials are pushing these projects because we will fail as an economy and as a culture if we do not move these projects forward.”
That’s the ongoing work needed throughout the nation’s busiest transit network. Today’s theme, officials said, is one small victory at a time.