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at-grade railroad crossings

Schumer sounds alarm on GPS companies' failure to add at-grade railroad crossing data to their navigation systems

By Billie Owens

Press release:

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged leading technology companies that produce GPS applications to add data on all 5,358 New York State at-grade rail crossings into their programs without further delay. 

Writing to the chief  executive officers of the 10 most common GPS manufacturers that still have yet to implement the changes, Schumer explained that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in 2016, recommended that these corporations, which include Google, INRIX, HERE Technologies, MapQuest, Omnitracs, OpenStreetMap US, Sensys Networks, Streetlight Data, Teletrac Navman, and United Parcel Service of America, include this information on at-grade rail crossings in their navigation systems.

The push for the added data follows a tragic accident in California that took the life of an engineer and injured 32 others. Since then, in New York State alone, between 2017 and 2019, there were 12 deaths and 44 injuries from at-grade rail crossing crashes.

Schumer explained that without this critical information, everyone who travels New York State, via train or automobile, is put squarely in harm’s way, and argued that given the near-universal commuter dependence on navigation applications, the GPS companies must incorporate this critical geographic data into their apps with all due haste.

“In today’s world, the use of portable GPS is a daily necessity for Upstate New York drivers to travel to and from work, to see families, to recreate, to shop and to drive almost anywhere," Senator Schumer said. "However, without data on perilous at-grade rail crossings included in these GPS applications and maps, countless drivers are left to venture blind into perilous—and potentially fatal—situations.

"That’s why today I’m urging the leading providers of portable navigation systems, from MapQuest to Google, to immediately add all 5,358 New York at-grade rail crossings—both public and private—to their systems. Even one preventable death from such an accident is one too many, and with 12 in New York alone since the NTSB first issued this vital recommendation, there is no more time to waste.”

Schumer explained that in 2015, the NTSB investigated a fatal crash in Oxnard, Calif., in which a train collided with a truck that had become lodged on the train track. The NTSB concluded that the driver, who was relying on a GPS application, misinterpreted the available audio and visual cues, causing him to turn onto the railroad tracks.

Schumer said that at the time of the crash, lights and gates at the crossing were not active because no train was approaching at the time.

Given those facts and details, NTSB recommended that navigation applications include grade crossing-related geographic data “to provide road users with additional safety cues and to reduce the likelihood of crashes at or near public or private grade crossings.”

Since the NTSB recommendation was issued, Schumer highlighted, there were 273 at-grade railroad crashes across the United States in 2017, the last year that data is available. Furthermore, in just New York State between 2017 and 2019, there were 12 deaths and 44 injuries from at-grade rail crossings.

Schumer argued that as New York State and the entire country make every effort to move towards zero traffic fatalities, even one preventable death is unacceptable, let alone 12. Schumer said without these vital safety improvements, commuters, train operators and pedestrians will continue to be at risk as they travel on roads that intersect public and private grade crossings.

In conclusion, Schumer urged the GPS companies to add all 5,358 at-grade crossings into maps and programs at once, to improve safety on New York State roads and highways and, inevitably, save precious lives.

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