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Railroad Crossing Safety Goes High Tech

, 7-15-2015

Categories: Safety Innovations

Operation Lifesaver’s primary role is to educate the public about how to keep themselves safe around railroad crossings and rights of way. To complement our education initiatives, we strongly support and encourage engineering research and innovation, which contributes to safety improvements at America's railroad crossings.

In 2014, there were 2,287 vehicle-train collisions at railroad crossings, according to preliminary Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) statistics. In total, 269 people were killed and 849 people were injured. Although the “three E’s” of railroad safety – education, enforcement, and engineering – have greatly improved crossing safety over the last four decades (in 1972, there were more than 12,000 grade crossing collisions nationwide), there is still a need for new and innovative ways to improve crossing safety.

Traffic control devices such as the advance warning sign, crossbuck, flashing red lights and gates located at highway-rail grade crossings are designed to help manage traffic flow and reduce risk. Over the years, there have been significant improvements in the design of grade crossings, traffic control devices, and signage, all in an effort to help drivers more easily see a crossing as they approach, and correctly react as they drive up to and through the crossing. Sadly, we still see too many collisions at grade crossings due to lack of driver awareness and attention.

Enter an exciting engineering improvement that may help. In June, FRA Acting Administrator Feinberg announced that Google has agreed to integrate the FRA’s railroad crossing geographic information system data into its Google Maps mapping application. Drivers and passengers will be warned when they approach any of the 250,000 railroad crossings throughout the country. Receiving an alert from a mobile device or smartphone of an upcoming railroad crossing can increase the driver’s awareness, and the additional reminder may help drivers remain alert, use greater caution, and obey crossing signs and signals.

Operation Lifesaver applauds the innovative partnership between FRA and Google, and looks forward to more exciting ideas for improving railroad crossing safety through better engineering and technology.

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