Pennsylvania

Google Maps to Alert Drivers of Railroad Crossings as Crashes Spike

Every railroad crossing in our region will soon be plotted out on Google’s Maps application as federal regulators work to reduce a recent spike in accidents.

The Federal Railroad Administration announced Monday they provided data for the 225,000 crossings nationwide to the tech giant. Google will integrate each location into Maps and provide visual and audio alerts to drivers while using the app’s navigation feature.

“Let’s say it’s dark on an unfamiliar road or just not sure about where you’re going, it will alert you, just like it would alert you to a right turn or a left turn…,” Sarah Feinberg, Acting Administrator at the Federal Railroad Administration, told NBC10.

“It could just be a game changer for safety for drivers and passengers who may lose situational awareness, who aren’t familiar with where they are, tourists even, or those who are driving at night. This is a huge safety feature,” Feinberg said.

Across the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys, there are 2,188 railroad crossings on public and private land. Nationwide, Feinberg said, railroad crossing crashes have jumped 9 percent over last year — with 267 people killed and 832 injured.

An elderly New Jersey man was nearly killed when his SUV got stuck on tracks at a crossing in Newark, Delaware on June 21. He was pulled to safety by two police officers moments before a freight train ran down the vehicle.

In Pennsylvania, which has the most operating railroads in the nation at nearly five dozen, there were 37 crashes at railroad crossings involving a train in 2014, according to PennDOT. The year before, there were 19.

Drivers are 20 times more likely to be killed in a crash involving a train than another vehicle, rail safety organization Operation Lifesaver found.

“There are a lot of grade crossings where there aren’t gates, there aren’t flashing lights. It may be a private railroad crossing and think about driving at night in an unfamiliar neighborhood … this is one more way for drivers to know where they are at any given moment,” Feinberg said.

Maps will only show railroad crossings. It will not include real-time train data that could alert a driver about a train approaching a crossing. Feinberg said officials aren’t interested in adding in that information as it could promote the idea that a driver could beat a train before it arrives.

Google is working on adding the crossings to its maps now, but it’s unclear when users will start seeing them. Feinberg said the FRA has also been discussing adding the data to applications from Apple, Garmin and Tom Tom.

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