The council, police department and school district are revaluating the city’s approach to railroad track safety after a seventh-grade Garfield middle school student was fatally struck by a train on Outwater Lane on Oct. 3.
Michael Cabaj, 13, ducked under the train crossing gate on Outwater Lane near the Plauderville train station at 4:50 p.m. coming home from cross-country practice as a westbound train passed, New Jersey Transit Spokeswoman Courtney Carroll said. Cabaj was riding a Razor scooter at the time of the accident.
“He didn’t see the eastbound train and was struck by it,” Carroll said.
Superintendent of Schools Nicholas Parrapato said that the district has had programs run by New Jersey Transit and the police department in the past to speak with the students about the dangers of being on the railroad tracks.
“Last year, with the New Jersey Transit program, they came to speak with the kids,” Parrapato said. “We will probably be doing it every year in the elementary schools with New Jersey Transit since the tracks run right through the middle of town.”
Since the accident, New Jersey Transit police have had more of a presence in Garfield.
According to Carroll, the rail safety awareness program provides outreach to schools across the state with age-appropriate programs to educate on the dangers of railroads, staying off the tracks and obeying the crossing signs. The program consists of a mixture of safety videos and a presentation tailored to each different grade level.
The program is free to any town that is interested. The program usually reaches 300 schools and about 100,000 students each year.
“No matter how many times we tell them how dangerous it is, some of them still go on the tracks,” Parrapato said. “We try to emphasize the safety and why they shouldn’t be walking along the tracks.”
At the city council meeting on Oct. 4, the mayor and council discussed different safety options for the train tracks. Councilwoman Tana Raymond suggested putting a fence or crosswalk over the top of some of the tracks.
“Kids are tempted to walk on the tracks,” she said, noting that most of the schools in town are in close proximity of the train tracks.
Borough Engineer Kevin Boswell and City Manager Tom Duch said the first step in the process about finding more safety precautions around the tracks would be to contact New Jersey Transit. Duch said he will reach out to them and report back to the council during the next meeting of the governing body.
Mayor Frank Calandriello said there has also been an increase in requests for parents asking for school bussing because of the dangers of walking to school and that could also be an option.
“It’s just sad and a very horrible thing,” Calandriello said. “Children and their parents are devastated.”
Calandriello asked Chief Kevin Amos to do a traffic study near the railroad tracks to see how many students cross the tracks before and after school and if there should be an increase in police presence. Amos said that he will talk to the traffic patrol and look into it.
According to New Jersey Transit there was another fatality in the same location in January of 2000.
Carroll said that New Jersey Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein and Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson are planning a site visit to the Garfield location to determine if anything else can be done to promote safety.
New Jersey Transit had a scheduled ribbon cutting last Friday for the opening of the new improvements to the Plauderville station in Garfield but the event was canceled. The station with the new improvements officially opened on Monday, a week after the accident.