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East Rockaway native develops railroad safety device

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About once a month for almost 14 years, John Barragan witnessed drivers stop on railroad tracks across Long Island when he was working as a crossing inspector for the Long Island Rail Road. Often, he said, the drivers were distracted — either texting, doing their makeup, or eating — and missed the flashing lights warning of an oncoming train.

That’s what gave him the idea to create a device that would warn train conductors about a car on the tracks. “If we could stop those people, it would be great,” said Barragan, an East Rockaway native.

The Railroad Crossing Warning System would be placed about 30 inches from the ground at a railroad crossing. When a train conductor taps on a circuit to activate the gates and lights, Barragan said, he or she would also activate a laser beam system. If the beam were broken for more than a second, he said, a warning system would go off at the frequency of the railroad channel, and would warn the train conductor of a disturbance at the crossing.

It would be the only device on the market that warns train conductors, according to Barragan. “Everyone else warns the motorists,” he said, adding that systems that warn drivers may not be useful if the driver is distracted.

The National Transportation Safety Board has previously only recommended train control devices that would prevent trains from colliding into one another, but has not recommended technology that would prevent a train from crashing into a car, according to media relations officer Keith Holloway. He said the board would have to look into the device and would not “endorse any technology, unless it’s been proven to save lives.”

Barragan, who now lives in Florida and works as a sales representative for a sports apparel company, received a U.S. and an international patent for the device in December. Only two months later, two LIRR trains collided with a car that swerved around lowered gates and drove onto the tracks in Westbury. Three people in the car were killed that day, and several train passengers were injured. It was only one of 16 times in which a car drove onto train tracks this year, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority statistics, and one of more than 500 such incidences since 2015.

Barragan said he is now trying to get a railroad company to buy his device and is creating a Facebook page for the product, which, he said, should launch soon.