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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

NTSB wants rail crossing alerts added to navigation apps


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is recommending that technology companies such as Google incorporate grade-crossing geographic information system (GIS) data into their navigation applications to provide drivers with alerts when they're approaching crossings.

The NTSB made its recommendation in a recent report on its investigation into a February 2015 Metrolink train crash. In the incident, the commuter train collided with a truck stuck on rail track near a grade crossing in Oxnard, Calif. The train engineer died a week later from his injuries. Thirty-two passengers and crew members also were injured.

The truck driver, approaching an intersection and grade crossing, had intended to turn right onto another street. Instead, he turned too soon and entered into the railroad right of way, according to the NTSB report. The driver's vehicle became lodged on the track; after he couldn't get the truck off the track, the driver left the vehicle. The Metrolink train collided with the truck about 12 minutes later.

The NTSB later determined that fatigue may have caused the truck driver to turn mistakenly onto the railroad right of way rather than the road. Data on his cell phone indicated the navigation application was supplying information to up to the time of the crash.

"It is possible that he relied on the navigation application to find his destination and subsequently misinterpreted the visual and audible cues available to him," the NTSB report stated.

Last year, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced that Google had agreed to integrate FRA-supplied GIS data on 250,000 public and private railroad crossings into its mapping and navigation applications, which would provide drivers and passengers with additional alerts when they're approaching a grade crossing.

The FRA encouraged other tech companies to do the same. In April, the FRA informed the NTSB that Apple, Garmin, HERE and TomTom also have agreed to incorporate grade crossing GIS data into their navigation systems, according to the NTSB report.

In June, the FRA informed the NTSB that it was reviewing its grade-crossing data for accuracy and expects to have it ready for integration into mapping and navigation applications by the end of the year.

As a result, the NTSB is now recommending that Google, Apple, Garmin, HERE, TomTom, INRIX, MapQuest, Microsoft Corp., Omnitracs, OpenStreetMap US, Sensys Networks, StreetLight Data, Teletrac and UPS of America incorporate grade crossing related GIS data, such as those being prepared by the FRA, into their navigation applications to provide drivers with additional safety cues to reduce the likelihood of crashes at or near public and private grade crossings.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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