Rail crossing safety in focus after deadly Saugerties crash

The Doyle’s Lane crossing. (photo by David Gordon)

The destroyed taxi. (Saugerties Police)

A county lawmaker said this week Saugerties officials had tried for years to convince CSX to install safety equipment or build an alternate access road at a railroad crossing where a woman was killed and two men injured when a train struck a taxicab last week.

The incident occurred around 11:47 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16 around 11:47 a.m. According to town police, CSX train traveling southbound struck a 2008 Chevy van operated by Kingston Kabs as it passed through an ungated crossing onto Doyle’s Lane, a private road off of Kings Highway. Backseat passenger Bertha Whispell, 50, of Saugerties was ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene. Driver Phillip Prindle, no age given, and front seat passenger Rodney Smith, 52, suffered non-life threatening injuries in the collision, police said. Saugerties police are investigating the circumstances of the crash and their findings are expected later this week, according to Chief Joseph Sinagra.

The deadly crash highlighted the existence of railroad crossings off of Kings Highway on Doyle’s Lane and Tissal Road that lack safety gates, warning lights or other safety equipment. A third crossing nearby, Sacks Road, which serves as an access road to the Northeast Solite gravel plant, was outfitted with safety gates in 2009 after at least one fatal and numerous non-fatal collisions between trains and trucks leaving the facility. Sinagra said that the Doyle’s Lane and Tissal Road crossings had become more of a concern in recent years as private homes and at least one multi-family dwelling replaced sparsely populated farms along the small private roads. According to published reports, last week’s accident was at least the third fatal crash at the three crossings since 2002.

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“That was all farmland that deeded the right of way [to CSX],” said Sinagra. “Now it’s more developed and you have people going in and out who may not be as cognizant of the trains.”

Ulster County Legislator Chris Allen said that he had learned of concerns about the crossing while campaigning in 2015. Allen said at the time residents complained that loose gravel at the crossing sometimes “hung up” vehicles as they went over the track. After several exchanges with CSX officials, Allen said, the gravel was replaced with asphalt. But, Allen said, concerns remain. Allen said he had discussed the issue with Town Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel and was told that that the town had lobbied the railroad for safety equipment at the crossings but that the company was not obligated to install the gates. Allen added that there had been a “gentleman’s agreement” between CSX and the town to have the railroad build a connector road that would allow drivers to bypass the ungated Tissal Road and Doyle’s Lane crossings and cross the tracks at the Sacks Road. Allen said the town had paid for the design work, but CSX never built the road.

“This issue has been called to [CSX’s] attention many times in the past,” said Allen. “I think they have a lackadaisical attitude towards that intersection and the residents of these sparsely populated roads off of King’s Highway.”

CSX did not return a call seeking comment. Helsmoortel, through a secretary, declined comment.

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