Can one of the nation’s newest, fastest-moving industries help to solve one of transportation’s oldest problems? The US Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) think the answer is yes and as a result are announcing a partnership with Google to make rail crossings safer for drivers and their passengers. Writing on her blog, ahead of a formal announcement next week, Sarah Feinberg, Acting Administrator of the FRA has confirmed that Google has agreed to integrate FRA’s GIS data, which pinpoints the location of the nation's approximately 250,000 public and private railroad crossings, into its mapping services. Adding railroad crossing data to smartphone mapping applications will supply drivers and passengers with additional cues that they are approaching a crossing. For drivers and passengers who are driving an unfamiliar route, traveling at night, or who lose situational awareness at any given moment, receiving an additional alert about an upcoming crossing could save lives.
The FRA says that last year approximately 270 people died in highway-rail collisions, compared to 232 in 2013—up 16.4%. 94% of accidents at rail crossings are due to driver inattention and error. This is the first time this decade in which that number has actually increased from the previous year. The Google and FRA partnership is part of an effort to reverse this rising rail crossing accident rate.
Feinberg (pictured left) continued: “We know that more and more drivers today use map applications on smartphones to guide them to their destinations. While mobile device maps and applications are trusted sources for directions and guidance, many of them do not notify drivers when they are approaching a rail crossing, or do not identify the rail crossing at all. When drivers are alerted or reminded that there is a rail crossing ahead, they may be more likely to remain alert, use greater caution, and obey the signal crossings.”
“From the very beginning of his tenure, Secretary (Anthony) Foxx has pushed all of us to do more to integrate technology to raise the bar on safety across all modes of transportation. This partnership, which will allow us to do just that, is an important development. Secretary Foxx and I are incredibly grateful that Google has quickly agreed to work with us, and we are hopeful that other tech companies that develop map applications will join us too” concluded Feinberg.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has applauded the grade crossing safety FRA and Google partnership: "The grade crossing collision rate has fallen nearly every year since 1980 and about 35 percent since 2000, but too many collisions still occur and virtually all of them are preventable," said AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. "The FRA's work with Google will provide a technological tool for motorists to build further safety awareness at crossings. The freight rail supports any and all efforts designed to focus people's attentions on the inherent dangers around grade crossings.
Hamberger also pointed to the See Tracks? Think Train campaign involving the AAR, OLI, FRA and the Federal Transit Administration, which is aimed at getting drivers and pedestrians to think twice before taking dangerous risks around railroad tracks.
Richard McKinney, CIO, US Department of Transportation is a Keynote Speaker at SmartRail USA Congress & Expo, Charlotte, North Carolina, 28-29th October 2015. The only show dedicated to driving innovation in passenger rail in the US. And, the only show of its kind that’s free!
You may also be interested in: