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U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) last week introduced legislation that would add $250 million annually to an existing rail-safety program starting in fiscal-year 2021.
The Warren Cowles Grade Crossing Safety Act would modify the federal Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program to increase funding available each year for grade-crossing safety improvement projects. The bill is named after Warren Cowles, a town worker who was struck and killed by an Amtrak train in 2017 while he was plowing snow at the Tina Lane and Birnie Road grade crossing in Longmeadow, Massachusetts.
The increased funding will prevent unnecessary deaths by allowing for the installation of grade separations, crossing signals, gates, lights and other barriers or cautionary signage at grade crossings nationwide. Thirty-three percent of rail-related fatalities occur at grade crossings, according to a press release issued by Markey's office.
Cowles' death was the fifth fatality and seventh collision at the Longmeadow crossing since 1975, Markey said. Safety improvements were completed there last year after Markey helped secure a joint funding arrangement between Amtrak and Massachusetts that allowed for installation of a new gate and warning lights.
The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) endorsed the legislation.
"These projects can be expensive to construct and establishing a specific source of funding for passenger-rail grade crossing safety will help our commuter railroads combat this critical safety issue," said APTA President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Skoutelas.