(Newark, New Jersey – November 9, 2011)
If anyone had any doubts as to the difficulty of the obstacles before a “Rail Safety Task Force” that held its first meeting Wednesday afternoon, the death of a pedestrian hit by an Amtrak train just west of the Hamilton, NJ station during the group’s opening session provided a grim reminder.
The task force, formed in the wake of the deaths of three teenagers in two separate accidents on NJT rails last month, has 60 days to come up with answers to avert accidents. James Simpson, state transportation commissioner and NJ Transit board chairman, said 28 people have died on railroad tracks in New Jersey this year alone, and that 87 percent of the victims – referred to as “trespassers” – are adults.
Both Simpson and Kevin O’Connor, general manager – rail operations for NJT, agreed that adults set a bad example for their children in violating crossing safety devices. Noting that one of the teenager tragedies involved a youth violating a lowered crossing gate, O’Connor said the danger is from a train approaching on an opposing train that people don’t expect.
The task force will look at all 314 grade crossings on the NJT system to evaluate whether engineering improvements are needed to make them safer.
“We’re looking at education, enforcement and engineering (using a common cliché’ coined by the railroad industry-controlled Operation Lifesaver Program) and commit that in 60 days we’ll have recommendations,” Simpson promised.