June 10, 2013
There are more than 200,000 railroad crossings nationwide, but only a small proportion are monitored due to the high cost. Now, a western New York startup has created a web-based system that could address this issue.
In 2010, dance instructor Katie Lunn was on her way home from the American Dance Awards when her SUV was struck at a crossing by a Chicago-bound Amtrak train, killing her.
“None of the warning signs had activated. No lights flashed, no bells rang and the gates stayed up. Katie had no idea that the crossing was inactive, and neither did the railroad.”
Tim Myers, a co-founder of company RocInnovations, says Katie isn’t an outlier.
Despite an overall decline over the past 20 years, in 2012 there were almost 2,000 incidents at railroad crossings in the US, and 300 were fatal.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, New York state remains in the top ten for deaths at crossings.
Myers says some railroads monitor crossings, but costs can be prohibitive.
“We talked to some railroads that used to monitor their crossings, but they ripped out monitoring solutions because they were way too expensive. We talked to a railroad out in Chicago that is currently monitoring their crossings, but they’re paying six figures a month.”
Myer and his team are addressing this by providing cloud-based monitoring for railroads that could cut costs by up to 90 percent.
“We’ve got some inexpensive devices that are going to hook up to the actual crossings themselves, and then they’ll monitor the crossings and ship up all that information to the cloud via cell modem.”
…allowing railroad companies to oversee their crossings via the internet and receive alerts.
However, according to spokeswoman for the American Association of Railroads, Patricia Reilley, monitoring is only part of the solution.
“The majority of the accidents on our grade crossings are because of driver behavior, not because of malfunctioning signals.”
Reilley says educating motorists, installing over and underpasses, and strengthening consequences for dangerous driving near crossings, are also needed to decrease fatalities.
“You’d be shocked at how many people either don’t stop, or drive around the gates. It takes a train a mile or more to stop, and warning devices are there to protect motorists and not trains. But people think they can beat trains, you cannot beat trains.”
Myers and his team will be testing their system at crossings next month. They hope to have the system commercially available by the end of the year.