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Norfolk Southern, Waze partner for rail safety awareness

With a heightened awareness on safety during Rail Safety Week, Norfolk Southern has partnered with Waze to increase driver awareness of railroad crossing safety in the city.

Since 2000, there have been 19 at-grade crossing incidents in the city – including one in January and another in August, two in 2019, three in 2018, and one in 2016, according to Norfolk Southern Public Safety Director William Miller. There have been 64 highway vehicle train incidents in the 47 at-grade crossings in the city since 1975.

Norfolk Southern is in the second year of its partnership with Waze, a GPS navigation software app, but this is the first year of its partnership at Virginia locations. Miller said it was looking to expand in areas with significant train volume, a large number of crossings, and a known history of crossing incidents.

“It’s almost a yearly occurrence at minimum that one of our trains has an incident with an automobile (in the city),” Miller said.

Miller said more than one million Waze users have seen the message in the first year, in which it was in six locations.

When people turn on the Waze app on their phone in the downtown area, Miller said, they will get one of two messages through the app on their phones. The messages won’t necessarily just come up just when a driver is stopped at a rail crossing, Miller said, but could also occur in other parts of the city where a driver is stopped.

One says, “Tracks nearby. Be smart. Be safe.” The other says, “Your safety starts with you. Cross carefully.”

“Our hope is that vehicle safety messages are understood, and it will make people think and understand that we do a lot of things to run a safe rail operation in this country,” Miller said. “But what we need motorists to do when they come to crossings, we need for them to make good, calculated, lawful decisions in how they operate the vehicle.”

Miller stressed that drivers should not try to go around lowered gates or try to beat a train.

Rail Safety Week began Sept. 21 and continues through Sept. 27.

The safety messages began appearing on the app for users in Suffolk last week, but Miller also stressed other measures Norfolk Southern has taken to enhance safety awareness around crossings.

He said the rail company is a longtime supporter of Operation Lifesaver, a national non-profit organization to end senseless injuries either at railroad crossings or railroad property. Leon Jackson, a manager of at-grade crossing safety at Norfolk Southern, said Operation Lifesaver has been working on virtual presentations for rail safety.

Even with the coronavirus pandemic, Rail Safety Week still has a heightened emphasis, but Miller said more is being done online to enhance awareness.

“We tell people, no matter what, don’t ever try to beat a train,” Miller said. “It’s just not worth it. If  there’s a reason that a train is stopped, and it’s longer than normal, turn around.”