Railroad official asks digital map makers to mark crossings

This Elmwood Park, N.J., railroad crossing has been the site of 29 accidents since 1975. The Federal Railroad Administration is hoping its new measure to integrate every grade-crossing location into mapping technology will inform drivers of nearby tracks, thus curbing the recent increase in crashes and fatalities.

The federal agency that oversees railroads has asked digital mapping companies to alert drivers as they approach track crossings in the hope that visual and audio cues will lead to greater awareness of potential dangers.

So far, Google has agreed to update its maps with crossing locations, the Federal Railroad Administration announced Monday.

The effort comes as deaths from train-on-vehicle collisions increased in 2014 from 2013, according to the agency. With approximately 270 deaths, 2014 was the first year-over-year increase this decade, the agency said. And this year began with major accidents at crossings near New York City, Los Angeles and in North Carolina.

It’s not yet clear when the audio and visual alerts will begin popping up.

Google Maps said it is sees a chance to make the maps more useful, spokeswoman Mara Harris said.

The railroad administration also has asked Apple, TomTom, MapQuest and Garmin to participate, agency spokesman Matthew Lehner said.

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In a blog post, the agency’s acting administrator wrote that Google will stitch the locations of approximately 250,000 public and private crossings into its maps.

“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,” acting administrator Sarah Feinberg wrote.