Image via Google Maps
The intersection of Flushing Avenue and 56th Street, where the railroad crossing signals recently malfunctioned.

Updated on Feb. 15 at 2:15 p.m.

While walking beneath an overpass on Flushing Avenue on Feb. 11, Maspeth civic leader Christina Wilkinson heard the horn of an approaching train behind her — but when she turned around to see it, she noticed something was wrong.

The train was crossing Flushing Avenue on the overpass, but the warning lights hanging above the road were not flashing, the bells were not ringing and no workers jumped off the train to stand in the road and stop traffic.

I was just a little surprised, like wow did I just see that?” Wilkinson said. “They don’t go very quickly, they slowly pass through, but the way it’s angled there you could turn a corner and have the train right in front of you.”

Wilkinson, the president of Citizens for a Better Maspeth, said she reached out to the local elected officials as soon as she got home. Her call to action was swiftly answered when the very next day, Feb. 12, Congresswomen Grace Meng and Nydia Velazquez sent a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) urging an inspection of the highway-rail crossings in Maspeth.

The brief letter pointed out that the signals at the intersection in question are especially important for alerting drivers and pedestrians because there is no crossing gate at that location. The letter also called for an inspection that covers all the rail crossings in Maspeth, citing the recent history of gate and signal malfunctions at Maspeth Avenue and Rust Street only a few blocks away.

In a joint statement released on Feb. 14, Velazquez expressed her grave concern for the safety of local residents around the railroad tracks.

“Maspeth is a significant hub for rail traffic and we need to ensure that the Federal Railroad Administration carefully examines all the rail crossings in this community, before an accident occurs, so residents can feel safe walking about or driving in their own neighborhood,” Velazquez said.

Meng thanked Velazquez for joining her in this effort and emphasized the urgency of the matter.

“The Federal Railroad Administration must immediately send an inspector to investigate the highway-rail crossings in Maspeth after this dangerous incident,” said Meng. “There is a history of crossing gate and signal malfunctions in the Maspeth community, and the FRA must investigate these issues with all due haste.”

Meng also thanked Councilman Robert Holden, who she said brought the incident to her attention. In a statement sent to QNS, Holden said that it’s only a matter of time before these malfunctions lead to a serious accident.

“The fact that several accidents have occurred because of malfunctioning warning signal lights is unacceptable,” Holden said. “This could result in a tragic accident, but by sheer luck, it hasn’t yet. In the future, we can’t rely on luck to prevent transit accidents, we need working signals.”

FRA spokesman Warren Flatau sent a statement to QNS about the administration’s planned response:

“The Federal Railroad Administration will dispatch a signal and train control inspector to investigate the matter, and respond directly to the Members of Congress.”


Join The Discussion

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Mary Parisen, Chair February 17, 2018 / 03:54PM
NYAR must slow down and stop at this kind of grade crossing in order to trigger the island circuits that work the lights (and, at some grade crossings, like Rust Street, the gates). Then a flag man is supposed to be on the ground while the train goes through the crossing. That's the procedure because there are no automatic gates and lights that would come down, as there might be for passenger train service. When NYAR goes right through the crossing, these traffic safety devices don't work. Here's a letter from MTA-LIRR President Patrick Nowaskowski to Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan admitting that NYAR did not "activate" the lights, meaning NYAR didn't stop at the grade crossing as required. NYAR claimed there was a flag man out there. So NYAR's "New Team" appears to be running the same old unsafe operation. See the letter below.

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