Alan Brody on a mission to make railroad crossings safer in honor of his late wife

VALHALLA, New York (WTNH) – It’s the deadliest crash in Metro-North History. Six lives gone in an instant at a railroad crossing in Valhalla, New York. It’s been more than three months since Alan Brody’s wife Ellen was killed, her SUV caught on the tracks between the two crossing gates and slammed into by a packed commuter train.

Alan and his beloved wife Ellen were to be celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary soon. Instead, he’s now dedicated to honoring her memory calling for much needed railroad crossing safety changes. He tells News 8 in an exclusive interview at the tracks where Ellen was killed that he on the phone with her just five minutes before the deadly crash and says she was happy, full of life and in no way meant to hurt herself and especially others.

Alan and I went back to the painful location where his wife’s life came to a tragic end. He, like a man on a mission to make change, walked right up to the tracks pointing to the very spot where his wife’s SUV came to rest on the tracks.

“I have no choice to come back here and show what happened, it’s my mission. I would stay here everyday if that’s what it took to make it right,” Brody said.

Somehow, with superhuman strength he was able to put emotion aside, telling me at this point it’s very technical for him. He was a train conductor at one point in his life and understands the railroad culture, signage, crossing warnings and lingo.

“Here you go, it’s coming right down, that’s it.” Brody said as he pointed to a Metro-North train barreling our way. The crossing gates started going down just three seconds after the red lights began flashing. But something seemed odd, even with those flashing lights, there was silence. All you could hear was birds chirping. Brody explains there are no warning bells because this small railroad crossing leading into and out of a cemetery has been deemed residential. We wait for the gates to come fully down in a horizontal position until the train arrives. “IT’S about twenty-two seconds,” Brody says. The train roars by us, kicking up dust and our hair. It’s powerful. And he stands there in silence. Twenty-two seconds he says he wife had to react having no idea she was on the railroad tracks until the back crossing gate came down on her car.

Brody goes on to say how a detour from a crash on the Taconic Parkway lead Ellen through the Valhalla cemetery towards what he calls a death trap. A crossing he says is so poorly marked with antiquated signs who’s design hasn’t changed since first created in 1926. Brody points out in the dark February snow covered night his wife didn’t even realize she was on the tracks until it was too late.

When the train slammed into her SUV that February 3rd night it lead to a fiery explosion killing the mother to their three daughters and five people on board the train. Brody takes a moment and shakes his head saying, “My wife just got very very unlucky and so did the people on the train because believe me, we think of them all the time.”

Brody shows us how the only warning sign leading up to the tracks is a round yellow R/R sign before a blind curve. He says Ellen was lost, thanks to a detour, in a place she had never driven before and in the dark of night so the sign would be very easy to overlook. He says the State of New York has known for years the crossing has been an accident waiting to happen. “In 2009, a DOT survey determined this was inadequate and gave them $130,000 to improve the warning system but it was never installed.” That money not being used is part of his claim just filed in a lawsuit against the state of New York, Metro-North and others.

The heartbroken husband would like to see the Commerce Street crossing closed for good, or at least until upgrades are made to fix what he says is a Russian Roulette crossing.

“I know people in tragedies always say they want to make sure it doesn’t happen to next person, this is a case when we can really do that because everything you see is really quite simple.”

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