Google adding railway crossings to maps

ABC News

Google has agreed to add railroad track crossings to its maps, according to an announcement on Monday from the Obama administration. 

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) asked for the additions in an effort to reduce the number of collisions between trains and cars. 

Acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg said in a letter to Google's senior vice president of products that having the track crossings on maps would allow drivers to receive warning about them on navigation applications, which she said would help reduce the number of accidents involving trains and cars colliding with each other. 

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"As you know, last year, approximately 270 people died in highway-rail collisions, the first time this decade that number has actually increased, rather than decreased, from the previous year," Feinberg said in the letter.

"The vast majority of these accidents and deaths are preventable. They are frequently the result of a driver's lack of awareness of a crossing or an oncoming train, or a driver's attempt to 'beat the train,'" she continued.  "Each one of these deaths and injuries is heartbreaking. We can—and should—do everything possible to end vehicular-train incidents at rail crossings." 

The effort to increase awareness about railway crossings among drivers follows a pair of accidents on Amtrak and commuter railways in New York and California earlier this year that involved collisions between trains and automobiles. 

The accidents raised concern among lawmakers about the safety of U.S. public transit systems, although transportation department officials have said the number of train accidents involving automobiles has actually declined in recent years. 

Feinberg said it is still important to add railway crossings to mapping services such as Google. 

"We know that more and more drivers today use map applications on smartphones to guide them to their destinations," she wrote. 

"While mobile device maps and applications are trusted sources for directions and guidance, many of them do not notify drivers when they are approaching a rail crossing, or do not identify the rail crossing at all," Feinberg continued. "This is a lost opportunity to communicate with drivers or passengers who may be in unfamiliar surroundings, following visual and audio cues in a mapping application, and this lack of data may also present an unintended danger." 

The FRA has sent similar requests to add railway crossings to maps to other popular map and GPS providers such as Apple, MapQuest, Garmin and TomTom.