When a train blocks a crossing, could you be alerted via your phone? Suffolk leaders hope so


SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Drivers tired of waiting at railroad crossings for trains to pass may one day be able to find out if a train is coming, before they ever get in the car.

Officials in the City of Suffolk are looking into technology that would utilize a smartphone app to identify grade crossings that are currently blocked.

The proposal announced to City Council on Wednesday night is the latest the city is considering in its effort to alleviate some of the community’s recent train troubles.

“We’re really pretty excited about this,” Public Works Director E.J. Hansen said in a presentation to council.

Hansen explained his team is utilizing the federal governments “Intelligent Transportation System” program to purchase a package that ties in with the city’s traffic system.

“When the train approaches the gates, the gates comes down, it sends a signal to our traffic signal,” Hansen said. “We’re going to try to capture that signal and be able to put it out so that it will go out to an app that will ultimately also link to WAZE.”

That way, a driver can plan out their route around gate closures currently reported.

Trains have been known to block crossings for more than an hour at a time in parts of the city. Hansen said the new technology has potential to be “a game changer.”

He also addressed steps being taken to buck the city’s trend of more train versus car accidents.

“2020 wasn’t a great year for us on rail,” Hansen said.

There were six incidents in which trains stuck vehicles at one of the city’s 32 active grade crossings within the last year and 14 within the last five. Two people were killed.

He said a majority of those accidents occurred when a person went around the closed gates.

Hansen said his staff is looking into adding medians or asking the railroad companies to add additional crossing gates.

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