By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
The railroad crossing in Bergen County’s Elmwood Park is one of the most dangerous in the state.
There have been 29 accidents here since 1975, with two resulting in fatalities, six in serious injury.
Alarmed by the Metro-North grade crossing crash two weeks ago that killed six people in Valhalla, N.Y., Congressman Bill Pascrell wrote a letter last week to state Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox urging that attention be given to the grade crossing in Elmwood Park.
“The fact that this is one of the worst railroad crossings in the area is something that we all should be working on. Jamie is committed to the fact that he will help us. I wanted him to know that I would help as well. So that we can have an across-the-board attempt to make this a safer rail road crossing,” Pascrell said.
The problem with this railroad crossing is that the two gates are far apart, the train comes in at a sharp angle and there is lots of room for a car or cars to get trapped between the gates once they’re down.
New Jersey Transit says it has added signage and lowered the speed limit here from 70 to 50 mph, but people familiar with the crossing say it’s still a problem.
“All crossings have their risk. This one might be just a little riskier,” said Steven Harrington.
Police Chief Michael Foligno notes there are several tricky crossings in his town.
“That one in particular is a little more dangerous because it’s on an awkward angle, the way the tracks are situated. Frequently in the past we’ve had people get disoriented over there and make a turn onto the railroad tracks and get their vehicles stuck and hung up. And on a few of those occasions the car has been struck by a train and fortunately the people have been out in time,” Foniglo said.
“It’s interesting that all of a sudden everybody’s aware of this,” said Richard Mola.
Mola has been Elmwood Park mayor for 44 years. He says a team of DOT engineers came to look at the problem a few years ago.
“As far as I can remember, the only conclusion they came up with was put in an overpass, which I think financially is not even a situation they’re looking at any more,” Mola said.
It can cost $80 million to run a bridge over a rail line.
The entire federal budget for railroad crossing upgrades is $220 million. That’s to take care of 130,000 grade crossings in the country.
“In some places they’ve done elevations. And of course that’s a very expensive proposition,” Pascrell said.