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Driver blames GPS for crash with Metro-North train in Bedford Hills

(The following story by Yaron Steinbuch and Hoa Nguyen appeared on The Journal News website on September 30.)

BEDFORD HILLS, N.Y. — In a case of deja vu at an accident-prone grade crossing, a driver blamed his GPS last night for an accident in which a northbound Metro-North Railroad train struck his stuck car on the tracks at Green Lane - stranding the passengers for more than an hour and a half.

In January, a 32-year-old man from Sunnyvale, Calif., also told Metropolitan Transportation Authority police that his car's global positioning system instructed him to turn right as he was crossing the tracks parallel to the Saw Mill River Parkway. He got stuck and abandoned the 2006 Ford Focus before it was slammed by a northbound Harlem Line train.

Last night, Jose Silva, 43, of White Plains told police that "he did what he was told" by his GPS unit and became stuck on the track shortly before 8 p.m., said Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders.

"At least he had the sense to get out of the car and call 911," Anders said.

"Another rotten commute," she added, chuckling. "When we do it, we do it big. It wasn't our fault."

No injuries were reported.

Silva of 11 O'Dell Ave., a freelance videographer, said in a telephone interview later that he was driving with his son and nephew to the Grand Prix New York Racing facility at 333 N. Bedford Road in Mount Kisco.

He said he got off the Saw Mill River Parkway on the right when his Magellan GPS unit told him to take another right - directions that landed him on top of the rails.

"My son was at my side and told me we're on the railroad," he said.

The three got out to try to move the Saturn. Another man also stopped to help, Silva said. They called police to report the incident and were told that railroad officials would notify any incoming trains to stop - but five to seven minutes later, the train struck the car.

The vehicle's bumper became lodged underneath the front of the train - the 6:52 p.m. express from Grand Central Terminal to Southeast. The train had to be backed up to allow workers to remove the car, and inspect the train and the tracks for damage.

All of the passengers remained on board, while three other northbound trains also were delayed when they were stopped at the Chappaqua and Pleasantville stations, Anders said.

One of the trains was turned around in Pleasantville to provide southbound service and its passengers boarded the other train at the station heading north. Two southbound trains also were delayed because of the mishap.

Silva said he was issued tickets for driving on the railroad tracks and not obeying signs.

In the previous incident, Bo Bai was driving west on Green Lane around 7 p.m. Jan. 2 and told police that his car's GPS instructed him to turn right as he was crossing the train tracks parallel to the Saw Mill River Parkway.

Bai was ticketed after blocking the tracks and was to be held liable for the damage and other costs of the crash, railroad spokesman Dan Brucker has said.

Even without adding the risk of misinterpreting or becoming distracted by a GPS device, five other accidents on the Green Lane tracks, including one that killed a woman driver in 1996, make this one of the most dangerous of some 150 grade crossings in the Metro-North system, Brucker has said.

Statewide, three crossings in Rockland County are in the top 10 in terms of accidents. There was a fatal crash involving a freight train in June 2005 at the Erie Street crossing in Blauvelt and one in August 2003 at New Main Street in Haverstraw.

One of the worst crashes in Bedford Hills, in September 2004, injured 29 passengers and led to calls for eliminating that crossing. The accident involved a Colorado truck driver, illegally on the northbound parkway, who exited at Green Lane, got stuck at the crossing and abandoned the rig.

Railroad officials supported plans to create a grade separation there after the last crash, but the state Department of Transportation decided not to rebuild the crossing because of the costs and the need to take property, agency spokeswoman Carol Breen has said.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

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