Rail safety committee highlights tactics to reduce
grade crossing fatalities
(Newark) - Transportation Commissioner and NJ TRANSIT Board Chairman James Simpson and members of the NJ Safety at Railroad Crossings Leadership Oversight Committee today provided an overview of the tactics that will be implemented to reduce overall fatalities and accidents at railroad grade crossings.
The committee is comprised of representatives from agencies such as the Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Highway Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NJ Department of Education, State Police, Motor Vehicle Commission and NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety, NJ TRANSIT Police, NJDOT, NJ TRANSIT and Operation Lifesaver. It was convened in response to recent fatalities on the NJ TRANSIT rail system.
“This committee set out to take a fresh look at the State’s rail network with a mandate to do everything possible to prevent fatalities on the rail system, such as the tragic grade crossing accident that took the life of a 13-year-old boy in Garfield last month,” said Commissioner Simpson. “Our job is to help prevent accidents through ‘E-cubed’—engineering, enforcement and education.”
“NJ TRANSIT’s top priority is ensuring the safety of our customers, employees and residents in the communities we serve,” said NJ TRANSIT Executive Director James Weinstein. “The aim of this committee is to create new partnerships and renew existing ones with other agencies at the state and federal levels to develop new tactics for enhancing rail safety.”
The committee was tasked with developing strategies in the areas of Engineering, Enforcement and Education in order to ramp up safety across the State’s rail network, particularly in areas where trains travel through densely populated neighborhoods. The Commissioner set a deadline for a final report from the committee in 60 days.
An immediate result of this renewed focus on safety is that locomotive engineers, train crew members and other field personnel will be actively engaged in identifying and reporting patterns of trespasser activity to enable law enforcement officials to respond appropriately.
One of the recommended approaches identified by the committee is for NJ TRANSIT and the New Jersey Department of Transportation to perform a comprehensive re-inspection of the rail, light rail and bus systems to look for areas where additional safety measures can effectively be implemented. The inspections will also seek to identify changes in the neighborhoods surrounding rail lines that may have occurred in recent years, such as new residential developments or schools that may not have previously been there.
Another strategy highlighted by the committee is to develop partnerships with local stakeholders, such as the Department of Education and State legislators, to explore the possibility of mandating schools in municipalities along the railroad or near rail facilities to provide annual safety education programs to students about the dangers associated with the railroad.
The partnership approach would also include developing a Safety Summit involving community leaders, and representatives from groups such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Scout Clubs, where NJ TRANSIT Police, Rail, Bus and Light Rail operations make a compelling presentation around the dangers of trespassing on railroad property and unsafe pedestrian practices. These community leaders can help NJ TRANSIT spread the word to their constituencies, including helping bring NJ TRANSIT’s School Safety Program to their schools.
As part of the agency’s School Safety Program, NJ TRANSIT currently conducts rail safety presentations in about 300 schools throughout New Jersey each year, reaching approximately 100,000 students annually. NJ TRANSIT has already implemented one of the committee’s recommended tactics by revamping the program to include a compelling first-person presentation by a police officer and a train engineer who have been involved in a rail fatality. This approach will help bring home to high school students the tragic consequences of failing to heed railroad safety. The newly revitalized program was first presented to a Garfield school earlier this month.
Additional tactics that will be implemented focus on the area of public awareness, including the development of a safety Public Service Announcement; creating a safety message, safety tips and a YouTube video for the njtransit.com home page; exploring the use of social media tactics to influence teens and young adults; issuing safety alerts via My Transit, which sends travel information directly to customers’ emails or web-enabled mobile devices; and creating a safety bumper sticker or billboard to place on all NJ TRANSIT non-revenue vehicles.