Following several recent fatalities on New Jersey Transit tracks, state DOT Commissioner Jim Simpson has announced the formation of the New Jersey Safety at Railroad Crossings Leadership Oversight Committee.

The group is comprised of representatives from agencies such as the Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Highway Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NJ Department of Education, State Police, Motor Vehicle Commission and NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety, NJ TRANSIT Police, NJ DOT, NJ TRANSIT and Operation Lifesaver.

Simpson says the goal is "to reduce fatalities, by 3 different prongs - education, enforcement and engineering... "do we have the latest and greatest in grade crossings and lights and paint and signage and all those things? And is there anything we can do better- do we need more fencing?"

He says New Jersey Transit alone can't do this job - there's a certain part of this that schools have to be more willing, and we need to be able to train trainers and do other things…it's not just going into the schools - maybe it's the social media- maybe it's a YouTube or something like that."

The Commissioner points out many would think most of the victims of these accidents are children , but "87 percent of the fatalities from trespassing our grade-crossing are by adults…a lot of this is people commuting to and from work - that are going around the gates or crossing the tracks - and we're doing what we can with fencing…alcohol and drugs have been involved in a high degree of a lot of these accidents, so there's external forces that go above and beyond what any of us could do."

NJ Transit Police Chief Chris Trucillo says it's very disturbing that they've observed - at multiple locations "large numbers of commuters in the morning, when there's low light conditions, just totally disregarding a crossing gate that is down and flashing…sometimes you need to have a high impact statement- and that high impact statement unfortunately comes down to enforcement."

The Committee will deliver a report in 60 days, but effective immediately, NJ Transit has announced that locomotive engineers, train crew members and other field personnel will be actively engaged in identifying and reporting patterns of trespasser activity to enable law enforcement officials to respond appropriately.

One of the recommended approaches is for NJ TRANSIT and the New Jersey Department of Transportation to perform a comprehensive re-inspection of the rail, light rail and bus systems to look for areas where additional safety measures can effectively be implemented.

The inspections will also seek to identify changes in the neighborhoods surrounding rail lines that may have occurred in recent years, such as new residential developments or schools that may not have previously been there.

Another strategy highlighted initially suggested by the committee after its first meeting is to develop partnerships with local stakeholders, such as the Department of Education and State legislators, to explore the possibility of mandating schools in municipalities along the railroad or near rail facilities to provide annual safety education programs to students about the dangers associated with the railroad.