Led by a duo of powerful, no-nonsense public service announcements spotlighting the deadly consequences resulting from poor choices made at railroad crossings, NJ Transit Board Chairman and New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson, NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein and members of the NJ Safety at Railroad Crossings Leadership Oversight Committee unveiled a new series of safety initiatives today at separate events in Camden and Bergen counties.
Following the deaths of three teenagers in October of last year, Commissioner Simpson organized and convened the Railroad Crossings Leadership Oversight Committee; comprised of representatives from agencies such as the Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Highway Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NJ Department of Education, State Police, Motor Vehicle Commission and NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety, NJ Transit Police, NJDOT, NJ Transit and Operation Lifesaver. Challenging the members to come up with recommendations within 30 days to mitigate the senseless, tragic deaths, the Committee heeded the Commissioner’s call; issuing initial recommendations within the deadline, and detailed recommendations this past winter.
“This committee has relentlessly pursued every available avenue to prevent fatalities on the rail system, through an approach we call ‘E-cubed’ — Engineering, Enforcement and Education,” said Commissioner Simpson. “Today, we are taking this approach to the next level – launching more aggressive enforcement, preparing to install new physical barriers and technological warning systems, and airing a duo of blunt, no-nonsense public service announcements that crystallize the very impact wrought by poor choices at railroad crossings.”
Separately appealing to both parents and children with a “between the eyes”, unmistakable message featuring two NJ Transit engineers and a NJ Transit conductor who have been involved in railroad fatalities, the two new public service announcements also feature two NJ Transit police officers who have both responded to railroad fatalities - and been forced to inform the families of the deceased. These testimonials also include personal perspective from Billy Carroll, a Westmont resident whose son was fatally injured on the Atlantic City Line in November, 2009, along with Matt Mattheiss, the lone survivor of a 1975 South Orange railway incident which resulted in the deaths of three of his close friends.
“Making bad choices along the tracks impacts everyone – from the train engineer who can’t stop the train in time — to the police who have to identify the victim and then deliver the news to their family,” Commissioner Simpson said. “We previously revamped our safety campaign to provide a real, first-hand account from those impacted by poor choices made along the track, and these tough new ads take this effort to the next level. They offer an unmistakable message — stay off the tracks.”
At the direction of Commissioner Simpson and the Committee, NJDOT and NJ Transit will be deploying Dynamic Message signs at high-risk grade-crossing locations, to remind pedestrians of the importance of obeying warning and safety devices. NJ Transit will soon be testing a new, “second train coming” warning sign at the Outwater Lane crossing in Garfield, adjacent to the new Plauderville rail station. This warning sign is slated to be operational by mid-July.
Further, NJ Transit will be piloting “gate skirts” at the Aberdeen-Matawan NJ Transit rail station, providing a second physical barrier to thwart trespassers who often “duck” under the crossing gates at this specific location. Aberdeen-Matawan is one of four stations of enforcement focus (including Walnut Street in Montclair, Convent Station in Morris Township and Radburn Station in Fair Lawn) with a high rate of trespasser activity; all of whom will be the subject of increased, visual police enforcement through this initiative.
“As our engineers, conductors and police officers will tell you, children are not the only ones guilty of making such poor choices — their parents are often the ones setting the example,” said Executive Director James Weinstein. “That’s why this Committee elected not to sugarcoat the message, and elected to speak honestly and directly to parents and children through these substantive actions and tough new advertisements. I commend the Commissioner and the Committee for taking these important steps — which will ultimately save lives.”
At the direction of Commissioner Simpson, the Committee was tasked with developing strategies in the areas of Engineering, Enforcement and Education in order to ramp up safety across the State’s rail network, particularly in areas where trains travel through densely populated neighborhoods.
Immediate actions implemented included the implementation of the Trespasser Intrusion Program (T.I.P.), requiring locomotive engineers, train crew members and other field personnel to identify and report patterns of trespasser activity to enable law enforcement officials to respond appropriately. A new educational video entitled “It’s Your Choice” was also created for use in the education program, which includes first-person testimony from impacted NJ Transit employees as well as surveillance footage taken from the four railroad crossings cited above for enforcement purposes.
Additional educational tactics implemented included the creation of a safety message, safety tips and a YouTube video for the njtransit.com home page; utilizing social media tactics to influence teens and young adults; issuing safety alerts via My Transit, which sends travel information directly to customers’ emails or web-enabled mobile devices; and creating a safety bumper sticker to place on all NJ Transit non-revenue vehicles. With today’s release of the new public service announcements, all of the original proposed educational tactics have been successfully implemented.
Committee representatives are currently working on additional initiatives that will be unveiled in the coming months. This includes further development of a Safety Summit involving community leaders, and representatives from groups such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Scout Clubs will be invited. As part of the planned Summit, tentatively scheduled for the fall of 2012, NJ Transit Police, Rail, Bus and Light Rail operations leaders will further illustrate the dangers associated with poor choices at railroad crossings while further building community and stakeholder support to save lives.