Harlem Line

Listen, and remember

Metro-North at Cold SpringThe sound is a simple one; low but powerful.  It is a noise that is part of the region’s soundtrack.  The deep steady sound of the train’s horn – commuter or freight – lets you know a train is coming.

And that is its job; to alert people of the massive machine before it reaches platforms, tunnels, or grade crossings.  I can imagine it is a sound that many heard seconds before the Harlem Line crash in Valhalla Tuesday night.  The sound was quickly replaced by the violence of a crash that killed six people and injured more than a dozen; the noise of an express train hitting a SUV stopped on the tracks, stopped in a spot – by mistake or on purpose – where it should not have been.

While some politicians tactfully began riding in on their white horses just hours after the crash, the number of accidents Metro-North has had at grade crossings is comparably low to other commuter transit agencies.  Between, 2012-2014 Metro-North had five accidents at crossings.  NJ Transit had 30.  Long Island Rail Road had 27.  MBTA in Boston had 17.  Across all railroads – freight and passenger – deadly accidents at crossings peaked in 1989 with 801.  In 2013, that number had fallen to 251.    It is true that Metro-North’s safety record has been troubled recently and there should be a thorough investigation into the crash but this one likely wasn’t its fault.  The reality is the only way to truly stop accidents at crossings is to not have trains at-grade.  Ask Al Smith why there are no grade-level trains in New York City anymore.

There are two crossings like this on the Hudson Line between Cold Spring and Croton-Harmon.  One is by the tiny, isolated station at Manitou.  The other is north of the Peekskill Station where you can cross for access to a park along the river.  This morning, we pushed through these crossings as icy flakes fell from the sky.  The train horn sounded, the red lights flashed and the gates went down.  A steady tone alerted anyone down the line a train was on its way.  Until this week, it was just another noise along the way to Grand Central.  But, as the horn sounded this time before we pass through the crossings, it provided me a small but audible connection to this terrible accident.  It acted as a personal reminder of the people who died or were injured at a spot very similar.  They are people I never met but they were doing the same thing I do every day.  Ride the train.  Go to work.  Head home.

This time, sadly, some of them never made it home.

When you hear a train’s horn – tonight or tomorrow or whenever – think about the people who died or who were injured.  Use it as a chance to reflect on how quickly lives can be changed and keep their families in your thoughts.

And, also use that sound – or the flashing red lights or the gates being down  – as a reminder of something equally important. There is a train coming.

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Grand standing after Metro-North crash a bit much

It appears a Jeep stopped on the tracks caused the deadly Metro-North accident tonight in Valhalla.  And before the sun had come up a few members of Congress – from Connecticut – decided it was a good time to release statements that really make you wonder.

From the Connecticut Post:  

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., expressed sorrow over the accident, and called for fast answers on the crash’s cause.

“I’m impressed and grateful for the immediate response of the emergency personnel, but my heart and my prayers go out to anybody who was injured, and to the families of the fatalities as well,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “I’ve contacted the Federal Railroad Administration and asked for an immediate investigation.

Thank goodness you asked for an investigation; no one in New York would have thought of that.  And, not for nothing, at least six people died so I’d imagine the FRA probably would have showed up even if you hadn’t called.

And this from U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, also from the Connecticut Post:  

“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims of tonight’s horrific crash on Metro-North and their families during this difficult time…Commuters and their families need to be able to rely on safe, timely rail service. As a member of the Rail Subcommittee on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I will be raising serious questions with Metro-North and the Federal Railroad Administration on what actions can be taken to prevent this in the future. I’ve worked closely on rail safety efforts on the Committee, and tonight’s crash is a glaring indication that more must be done.”

And thank you for building yourself up as our savior by “raising serious questions” about train safety at a time when you’d been better off stopping the statement at “this difficult time.”