Too Close to Danger

Glendale Residents Worried Over RR Gate

by Robert Pozarycki

At about 12:05 p.m Sunday, May 18, this New York and Atlantic Railway locomotive passed through the 88th Street at-grade crossing in Glenadle, with the traffic gates not completely down. According to residents, the gates recently began lowering just before locomotives passed through the intersection. Railroad officials stated the devices are in proper working order, though the signal timing may need to be changed.

Though officials insist an at-grade railroad crossing in Glendale is in proper working order, residents claim the barriers activate only when a freight locomotive is very close to the street.

Since mid-April, residents filed numerous complaints with Community Board 5 and the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) that the 88th Street crossing’s barriers have been activating on a delay as diesel engines approach the street. The locomotives were moving at a restricted speed—less than 15 mph— as they approached the crossing.

Even so, according to resident, Frank Korzeniewski, there had been “several near miss incidents of cars crossing the track with the train approaching.” He sent to the Times Newsweekly images taken at 12:05 p.m. Sunday, May 18, which showed the barriers coming down on 88th Street just as a diesel engine operated by the New York and Atlantic Railway (NYAR) approached the street.

In another instance last month, according to Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano, a family walking through the crossing— having seen the barriers were not activated—began walking across the tracks and found themselves only 15 feet away from a slow-moving diesel engine. They managed to get out of the way unharmed but alarmed from the close encounter.

Further details about problems at the 88th Street crossing were relayed by residents in posts to the Glendale Civic Association’s (GCA) Facebook page. One resident stated she stopped at the tracks as a precaution before there was any sign of the crossing barriers being activated.

“I ignored the blaring horns of the cars behind me and, low and behold, wouldn’t you know a train was no more than 10 feet from the intersection,” the resident claimed. “I had to back up because only when the train approached the exact opening of the intersection did the gates come down. Much too late, if you ask me, and very scary.”

Several residents posted on Monday afternoon, May 19, that LIRR workers were on the scene inspecting and repairing signal equipment.

“It’s been fixed before, and it gets back to the same place,” GCA President Kathy Masi cautioned in speaking with the Times Newsweekly Tuesday.

Last year, the NYAR leased from the LIRR all of the Lower Montauk Branch—which runs from Jamaica to Long Island City and through Glendale’s Fresh Pond Railyard—for its freight rail operations. Passenger service which previously operated on the Lower Montauk branch was eliminated.

The LIRR, as part of the lease agreement, agreed to continue maintenance of railroad crossing signals and equipment.

“NYAR has retained the LIRR to maintain the crossing gate system, the railroad performs regular maintenance and the system is in good working order,” LIRR spokesperson Salvatore Arena told the Times Newsweekly in an email on Tuesday, May 20. “The LIRR has also responded promptly to emergency maintenance calls made by NYAR and will continue to do so.”

According to Jessica Mead of the NYAR, the train crew “visually inspects the crossing” after the barriers are activated “to verify if it is clear, and at that point, the train proceeds over the crossing.”

“The signal and gate are functioning properly and there have been no near miss incidents,” she said in an email to this paper.

The issue, as one individual with knowledge of the situation indicated, may be the transition of the Lower Montauk Branch to an exclusively freight rail operation. Since the NYAR trains travel more slowly through the corridor—LIRR passenger trains used to travel at speeds exceeding 30 mph—the signal timing may need to be adjusted accordingly.

Sources familiar with the situation indicated the NYAR and LIRR are working on a solution that will address community concerns about signal timing at the 88th Street crossing.

The situation needs to be addressed promptly, Giordano told this paper in an interview on Tuesday.

“The potential for someone getting killed or seriously injured at the 88th Street crossing—and other at-grade crossings where the railroad gates either are not functioning or allow people to get that close to the tracks before they come down—is all too great,” he said. “In our area, we have serious concerns with regard to the 88th Street crossing at 76th Street, and the Metropolitan Avenue crossing near Woodward Avenue [in Ridgewood].”

The Ridgewood location, as Giordano pointed out, was where a runaway diesel engine on the LIRR Bushwick branch smashed into several vehicles in March 2004. The Metropolitan Avenue crossing lacked proper barriers and gates; since then, flashing signals and a railroad crossing sign atop a metal gantry have been installed.

“Something has to be done by the Long Island Rail Road and the New York and Atlantic Railway to better safeguard those crossings—and it needs to be done immediately,” Giordano added.

More from Around New York