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Waze GPS app warns drivers not to turn onto LIRR crossings

An LIRR grade crossing at Willis Avenue near

An LIRR grade crossing at Willis Avenue near 2nd Street in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A major provider of a mobile navigation system has joined the Long Island Rail Road’s effort to help prevent drivers from accidentally turning onto the train tracks at grade crossings throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.

GPS provider Waze rolled out a new feature Thursday on its mobile app that warns users when they approach an LIRR grade crossing.

An audio and visual message alerts drivers: “Railroad crossing: Do not turn onto tracks.”

The feature is functional at 10 LIRR grade crossings: in Bay Shore, Farmingdale, Hampton Bays, Hewlett, Holbrook, Oyster Bay, Sayville, Wyandanch and two in Deer Park. Partnering with the LIRR, Waze plans eventually to integrate the warnings into all of the railroad’s 296 grade crossings.

“As a community-based app, our navigation technology and features are constantly evolving and we are enthusiastic about our work with the LIRR to implement a new tool that will help promote driver safety near Long Island Rail Road crossings,” said Thais Blumenthal, head of Waze’s Global Connected Citizens program.

The LIRR has recorded 21 incidents of cars turning onto train tracks at grade crossings so far this year. There were 29 incidents during all of 2017.

Speaking at a media event Thursday morning in Southampton, LIRR president Phillip Eng said he was “excited” about the partnership with Waze, which builds on other recent efforts by the railroad to prevent motorists from accidentally turning onto tracks.

Those efforts include installing 4-foot-high reflective “delineators” at crossings and continuing painted road stripes across the tracks.

The upgrades have already been made at 65 LIRR crossings, and are scheduled to be in place at all crossings by the end of 2018, Eng said.

“It’s a way, as a car is approaching a crossing, to show that the road continues across the tracks and that they shouldn’t be turning onto the tracks,” said Eng, who noted that the improvements help ensure the safety of motorists, LIRR passengers and railroad employees.

The announcement of the partnership between Waze and the LIRR came on International Level Crossing Awareness Day, which began in Europe in 2009 to bring attention to rail safety.

To mark the occasion, Eng said LIRR safety personnel and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police were on hand at several crossings throughout the Island, talking and distributing safety literature to motorists and pedestrians.

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