The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced Monday that Google has agreed to add a function to its GPS application warning drivers of upcoming railroad crossings.
“Adding railroad crossing data to smartphone mapping applications just makes sense,” FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg said in a prepared statement, adding that the partnership will help to “make rail crossings safer for drivers and their passengers.”
Under the agreement, Google Maps will incorporate FRA data on approximately 250,000 public and private railroad crossings, which had previously been available to consumers only through a separate app. (VIDEO: 71-Year-Old Hit By a Train, Walks Away)
Google has not announced an official launch date for the new feature, but FRA spokesman Matthew Lehner told USA Today that the project is “a priority” for the company. Lehner also noted that while Google is the first company to agree to the partnership, “we have heard positive signals” from other app developers, including MapQuest, TomTom, Garmin, and Apple.
“Last year, approximately 270 people died in highway-rail collisions that were largely preventable,” Feinberg claimed. “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.” (VIDEO: Husband and Wife on Railroad Tracks Struck, Killed by Train)
With map applications becoming increasingly ubiquitous, Feinberg predicted that the program would provide a major boost to the agency’s efforts to reduce the frequency of such incidents, which increased last year for the first time in a decade.
“When drivers are alerted or reminded that there is a rail crossing ahead,” she explained, “they may be more likely to remain alert, use greater caution, and obey the signal crossings.” (RELATED: Train Hits Bus in India, Killing 35 After Wedding)
GPS warnings, however, can only do so much to improve safety, according to former Riverside, California councilman Steve Adams, who told The Press Enterprise that the only way to prevent all collisions is to eliminate crossings entirely using bridges.
“The ultimate goal is to get as many grade-separation crossings as possible,” Adams said. “Only a grade separation guarantees that people in vehicles will not encounter trains.”
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