A range of initiatives designed for quick implementation to promote safety and reduce accidental deaths along New Jersey’s busy railroad tracks were announced Wednesday by the state Department of Transportation.
The announcement caps three months of work by a Safety Along Railroads Leadership Oversight Committee that was formed in the wake of two incidents during the autumn. Those incidents, in Wayne on Oct. 2 and in Garfield on Oct. 3, claimed the lives of three teenagers and injured a fourth.
A report on the initiatives, attempts to build on a foundation of existing NJ TRANSIT safety programs and represents the work of a large number of federal and state officials and other people interested in the issue.
Recommendations contained in the report primarily revolve around three so-called safety spheres: engineering, education and enforcement. 12 high-priority action items are proposed to be carried out or at least started within a year or, in some cases, much sooner.
The report also lists a dozen safety efforts that NJ TRANSIT has started or committed to since the formation of the committee in November.
Here are engineering action plans:
- Among engineering action items is a commitment to launch a pilot program to evaluate the effectiveness of gate skirts and “Second Train Coming” warning signs.
- Gate skirts create a barrier below an activated grade-crossing gate to deter pedestrians from ducking under. “Second Train Coming” signs are designed to provide an additional warning to pedestrians to remain behind gates even after the one train they may be aware of has left the station. This pilot program will be carried out by the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center under an agreement with the Federal Railroad Administration.
- NJDOT and NJ TRANSIT will deploy message signs, rotating them among high-risk grade-crossing locations, to remind pedestrians of the importance of obeying warning and safety devices.
- The two agencies will also expand a program to proactively assess conditions at crossings and stations, in addition to responding to crash incidents.
Here are education action plans:
- NJ TRANSIT has begun to re-tool its Rail School Safety Program that it presents to schools and community groups. The new age-appropriate programs now include compelling accounts from police officers and train engineers who have been involved in or have responded to trespasser-related incidents on the NJ TRANSIT railway system.
- To expand the reach of the program and support the efforts of NJ TRANSIT staff, members of statewide Transportation Management Associations will be trained as presenters of the safety message to school and community groups.
- The report also calls for the development and implementation of a public education campaign that includes new public service announcements, the increased use of social media and other virtual and physical formats designed to spread essential safety information to targeted audiences.
- NJ TRANSIT will also work with the state Motor Vehicle Commission to insert rail and grade-crossing safety information in the driver’s manual and to include at least one rail safety question on driver’s license written tests.
- Additional educational and safety signs will be installed at targeted rail stations to provide basic information about laws that prohibit trespassing or ignoring warning devices.
Here are enforcement action plans:
- NJ TRANSIT police will conduct high-profile enforcement actions at targeted high-risk locations, to enforce the laws that prohibit ducking under crossing gates or other acts to disregard warning devices. Efforts will be made to time these enforcement actions to coincide with public service announcements as a way to amplify the safety message.
- “Nothing at NJDOT or NJ TRANSIT matches the importance of safeguarding the lives of those who use New Jersey’s extensive, multi-modal transportation system,” NJDOT Commissioner James Simpson said. “We dedicate the efforts that will spring from this safety initiative to all who have endured tragedy along our railroads and to all who we will protect in the future.”
- “Our collective efforts will build upon NJ TRANSIT’s extensive safety programs and will help create a safer future for our customers, our employees and for all New Jersey residents and visitors,” NJ Transit Director James Weinstein said.
- The oversight committee consisted of Simpson, Weinstein and officials from the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, State Police, state Department of Education, the Motor Vehicles Commission, the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety, and the NJ TRANSIT police.
—TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM