In an effort to improve railroad crossing safety throughout the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders announced Monday a series of measures including higher fines for drivers who repeatedly drive around lowered safety gates at railroad crossings.
The legislative package, part of a coordinated effort to address safety following a deadly rail crash last year near Valhalla between a Metro-North train and an SUV, also includes $5,000 fines for rail companies for certain violations, such as failure to report a crash, state officials said. Last year's collision claimed the lives of five train passengers and the SUV's driver.
The deal also includes a systematic inspection effort by local and state officials of all railroad crossings, safety gates, signals and other safety equipment. For drivers caught driving around safety gates, or "gate running," the fine for a second offense will be $750, then $1,000 for a third offense.
“By requiring frequent inspections at grade crossings and increasing penalties for those who continue to violate the law and ignore important safety requirements, this agreement will help to reduce the amount of preventable tragedies that have occurred at these crossings over the years," Gov. Cuomo said in a statement.
For drivers caught violating the safety rules, the time frame for repeat offenses is increased to 30 months, rather than the existing 18 months.
Also, repeat-offender drivers who don't obey signals will face a $500 fine for the second offense and $750 for the third offense. Drivers of buses and vehicles carrying hazardous materials also face stiffer fines for repeat offenses -- $500 for second; $750 for third -- of not stopping before crossing the tracks, state officials said.
The new laws also come with a plan to start a public campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of violating rail crossing rules. In 2014, there were more than 250 collisions at rail crossings in the United States, officials said, and many of them involved a local driver.
For more information about the state's rail crossing initiative, visit the state's website .