Rail Safety Week brings awareness of dangers at track crossings

BY Briana Vannozzi, Senior Correspondent |

Officers handed out educational flyers at a dangerous railroad crossing in Elmwood Park. They were providing safety tips and facts for motorists and pedestrians at rail crossings all across the state at locations known for high rates of rail collisions.

“We were contacted by Amtrak a couple weeks ago and asked to participate in this national initiative for safety around railroad tracks. And we decided to participate because we have one of the most dangerous crossings in the country,” said Elmwood Park Chief of Police Michael Foligno.

Foligno said the department had 14 incidents and one fatality at the railroad location in a 10-year span. Far too many for a problem that’s easily preventable.

“Today’s operation, Operation Clear Track, which is primarily a law enforcement effort, is at select crossings in New Jersey to have people understand those signs are real traffic signs and while you can get a ticket for the violation the real penalty is the likelihood of getting killed,” said Michael Allen, director of New Jersey Operation Lifesaver.

And it’s part of a larger, first-ever, U.S. Rail Safety Week, a public education campaign spearheaded by New Jersey Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit rail safety organization, along with Amtrak and law enforcement.

“We’ve had over the last three years, there were 85 train versus motor vehicle collisions,” said Allen.

“You see it all the time: people try to go around the gates, they think they have the time, they don’t want to wait, they’re in a rush. Unfortunately, those trains are coming through here easily 40 to 50 miles per hour. I do believe they slow down at the crossings, but they come through very fast and can do a lot of damage,” said Captain Nicole Foley of the Hackensack Police Department.

Foley said it has had one or two pedestrians struck at the busy intersection at the Anderson Street Station. Statewide over the last three years, 87 pedestrians were injured in rail incidents.

“I do notice people run under these dividers when they are going down and pedestrians will run over them and mostly the cars will stop,  said Commutter Robin Brown.

Here in Elmwood Park, the town has spent several hundred thousand dollars in safety upgrades to this intersection and they’ve cut their number of incidents down from 14 to just one.

“This is a strange angle here and traffic will back up during rush hour in the mornings and afternoons, and people think they have enough time or they think they have enough clearance and traffic stops, the gates start coming down and they have nowhere to go they get stuck on the tracks,” said Foligno.

The message from the initiative was, you may lose a few minutes on your commute by obeying the signs and signals, but in comparison, you’ll save your life.