Legislation authorizes $250 million annually for grade crossing safety projects


Boston (May 23, 2020) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today announced the Warren Cowles Grade Crossing Safety Act. This legislation is named in honor of Warren P. Cowles, a dedicated public servant who was tragically struck by an Amtrak train on March 14, 2017 at the Tina Lane and Birnie Road grade crossing in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. A grade crossing is the area where a railway line intersects with a road or path. Grade crossings are significant danger zones, such that 33 percent of rail-related fatalities occur at these locations nationwide. Senator Markey’s legislation modifies an existing rail-safety grant program to increase the funding for grade crossing improvement projects to $250 million each year, adjusted for inflation. This significantly increased funding will prevent unnecessary deaths by allowing for the installation of grade separations, railroad crossing signals, gates, lights, and other barriers or cautionary signage at grade crossings nationwide.


“It has been three years since Warren Cowles’ tragic death,” said Senator Markey. “His accident was the seventh collision and fifth fatality at the Longmeadow crossing since 1975, making it the deadliest grade crossing in Massachusetts – a distinction that no community should have to suffer. I am proud to have helped the residents of Longmeadow address the safety issues at their particular crossing, but we must do more to honor Warren’s memory. That’s why I am introducing new legislation that will increase grade crossing safety across the country and make sure we are preventing these accidents everywhere we can.”


“The Cowles family is honored to have this bill named after Warren,” said Cindy Cowles, sister of Warren Cowles. “The safety measures this legislation will promote would have saved his life and will ensure that accidents of this type won't happen again.”


A copy of Senator Markey’s Warren Cowles Grade Crossing Safety Act can be found HERE.


After Warren Cowles’ 2017 accident, Senator Markey led a letter to Amtrak that urged the railroad company to address pressing safety issues at the Tina Lane and Birnie Road crossing. Throughout 2017 and 2018, Senator Markey helped secure a joint funding arrangement between Amtrak and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that allowed for the installation of a new gate and warning lights in Longmeadow. When Senator Markey learned that this work was delayed despite the funding agreement, he pressed Amtrak at Congressional hearings to expedite the project. Amtrak finished the Longmeadow grade crossing improvement project at Senator Markey’s urging in the fall of 2019.


“On behalf of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), I want to thank Senator Markey for his leadership in tackling the critical issue of grade-crossing safety for commuter rail and other operators in high-ridership rail corridors,” said Paul P. Skoutelas, President and CEO of APTA. “Our commuter railroads have been working hard to mitigate these highway-rail grade-crossing incidents, often involving unlawful entry to the railroad’s right of way. 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. We strongly support the bill and look forward to working with Senator Markey to ensure that it is included in the bipartisan surface transportation legislation that Congress is considering this year.”


“This bill will improve safety for train passengers, for drivers, and for pedestrians in the communities served by rail lines,” said Jim Mathews, President of the Rail Passengers Association. “Not only will it make existing train service safer, by upgrading highway-rail grade crossings it will make America’s intercity and commuter rail systems more efficient and increase capacity. Commuter and intercity rail travel is 18 times safer than driving a car in metropolitan areas, and the best way to make our transportation network safer is to allow more people to choose transit. We thank Senator Markey for his leadership on this issue.”