In June of 2018 the Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Amtrak asking for all information relating to safety incidents at the two public grade crossings at the entrances to Ernest R. Lasher Jr. Memorial Park and Cheviot Park, as well as incidents along the right-of-way (ROW) along the entire Germantown shoreline on the Hudson River. We requested data from 2010 to the present.
In mid-August Amtrak responded with over 200 pages of their records. For this approximately eight and a half year period, there were 24 reports relating to incidents along the ROW, and 19 reports of malfunctions at the grade crossings. Of the 24 ROW reports, five of them are additional or duplicate reports, so a more accurate count is that there were 19 ROW incidents. The full response can be accessed here (31 MB, loads in a new window, this is a scan of a paper document and has been enhanced to be somewhat searchable).
- Two of the ROW incidents were fatalities, but neither is certain to involve what Amtrak refers to as “trespassing.” (One fatality was an Amtrak employee, the other did not have injuries consistent with being struck by a train, and is thought to have possibly fallen from a train.)
- Five incidents, including two of the most serious incidents (train struck a fallen tree; emergency stop because of two trespassers in the gauge of the tracks) were north of Lasher Park, in the area not impacted by Amtrak’s proposed fences and gates.
- During striped bass season, there are often anglers along the tracks in vehicles, yet only one incident mentioned a vehicle, and it was in the early morning and was in March, which is not striped bass season.
- There were incidents involving rocks and fallen trees, which are not related to individuals in the ROW.
- There were two incidents where police and other first responders accessed the ROW, one a police foot pursuit and the other a response to a downed aircraft in the Hudson.
- There are about as many grade crossing gate malfunctions as there are ROW incident reports.
To those of us arguing for continued access to this section of the Hudson River shoreline, this data suggests that people can safely enjoy the shoreline. Public presence along the shoreline can also enhance safety. For example, people can spot and report debris on the tracks (two serious incidents involved trees or rocks on the tracks), and people can spot and report children behaving unsafely (four incidents).
Amtrak’s rationale for the proposed gates and fences is that it will limit public access to the shoreline, which will improve safety. In conversation they have cited anecdotal evidence that public recreation along Germantown’s shoreline is a safety concern to the railway engineers. Shouldn’t the actual safety-related reports also inform decision making?