Higher standards and better safety technology have helped reduce the danger of railroad crossings over the half-century. Every safety improvement gets closer to an accident-free system, but track crossings remain inherently risky.
With crossing related fatalities on the decline throughout the 21st century, the nine percent uptick in deaths in 2014 was cause for alarm. The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) warns that roughly every 90 minutes, a vehicle and train collide in the US. Because this type of collision is about 30 times more fatal than a vehicle-on-vehicle accident, a major campaign has been launched to put an end to crossing fatalities.
Leveraging the best technology available, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) within the USDOT began to develop warning and locator systems that anyone can access. The prevalence of smartphones provided the perfect platform for this technology, bringing forth the Rail Crossing Locator application. This smartphone app gives users the ability to identify crossings by several indicators, including the USDOT Crossing ID, address, geo-location, and more.
Additionally, the FRA has agreed to work with Google to incorporate audio and visual alerts for its navigation systems. Partnering companies will have access to USDOT data to increase the number of crossings cataloged. This will hopefully notify drivers of potential encounters with trains as they approach a crossing. The FRA is consulting with other technology and mapping companies, such as Apple, Garmin, TomTom, and MapQuest to include warnings. The FRA can’t stop every accident, but making the best information available to the most people will reduce the tragedies that occur at crossings every year.
A train traveling at 50 miles per hours needs about a mile and a half to stop. At that speed the train covers over 70 feet per second. When a vehicle approaches a track and becomes aware of a train, the split second decision to stop or cross can mean life or death, as many drivers misjudge the distance. The FRA hopes to use technology to notify drivers of a train crossing before they get there, giving them time to slow down and proceed with caution. This will provide drivers with the time and information they need to be safer around crossings.