Intelligent Transport System to improve safety of railway crossings


June 12, 2013

An Intelligent Transport System being developed at La Trobe University is aimed at preventing scenes like this (Photo: Shutterstock)

An Intelligent Transport System being developed at La Trobe University is aimed at preventing scenes like this (Photo: Shutterstock)

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In the quest for smarter and safer transportation networks, automakers have been working on communication systems that use wireless technologies to share information between vehicles and infrastructure, such as traffic lights, road works, intersections and stop signs. The potential applications of these vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) systems are constantly being expanded, and while GM has been working to bring cyclists and pedestrians into the mix, a team from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, is looking to improve safety at railway crossings by developing a system that enables communication between trains and road vehicles.

According to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), there were over 630 collisions at railway crossings in Australia between 2001 and 2009. While active warning system, such as boom gates, flashing lights or barriers, can help cut the incidence of accidents, they are expensive to deploy and maintain. While being cheaper, passive signs are much less effective, particularly when poor visibility and driver fatigue is involved.

A team at La Trobe University’s Centre for Technology Infusion (CTI) has developed an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) that uses GPS and Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) wireless technology to establish a wireless connection between trains and vehicles approaching a railway crossing. The system is designed to detect the possibility of a collision and alert the driver with in-car audio-visual alerts that escalate in volume and intensity as the train gets closer to the crossing.

The team, which was a merit recipient in the Research & Development category at the Victorian finals of the 2013 iAwards, has been developing, testing and refining the system over the past three years. World first field trials at both regional and urban railway crossings have been conducted involving around 100 road and rail vehicles fitted with the technology.

Director of the CTI, Professor Jugdutt (Jack) Singh, says that results of the trials have “exceeded expectations,” and that intelligent transport technology systems like those his team has developed are expected to be available in new cars from next year. The system is expected to be an economical way to improve the safety of railway crossings, with the cost of rolling out the technology across the entire rail fleet in the state of Victoria estimated to be less than the cost of upgrading a single railway crossing with boom gates.

The La Trobe University team's ITS is detailed in the following video.

Source: La Trobe University CTI

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Although this technology will prove to be useful and an improvement on railroad safety; it is yet another example of how dependent we have become on peripheral devices to manage our driving. Where I believe this will benefit the most is crossings that are hidden with either vegetation or manmade obstructions that block down rail sight.


If life and death were a real concern for governments or railroad companies there would be gates that could not be penetrated by even moving vehicles at every RR crossing a road of any kind. Money is worth more than lives. Deny it as they will it is the truth...truth is always in action, never in words. In the end we are the ones who would have to pay...and we won't, whatever excuses are offered the fact is we too value money over life. The atributes assigned to humanity as being humane are false, this has been proven in deeds for many centuries and never before has it been more true than now.

John Parkes

hello. this device can only cause more accidents. i can not wait to get one so i can fearlessly cross through the gate, because i can now hear how far away the train actually is. after i get the sound of one actually crossing- i can even begin playing a stacked game of chicken crossing with the oncoming train. oh the joy of technology for saving a few dollars while enriching one other.


We see these type of catastrophes all the time in the San Joaquin Valley of California from all types of trains and vehicles. Sad to say, most of them are caused by vehicle drivers choosing to go around the down flashing gate arms, or driving under the influence, or simply believing they can beat the approaching train even at intersections where there are no crossing arms/warning lights.

It's unfortunate because often these drivers have their children in the car. Those in passenger trains, including the engineers, have to live with seeing some very unsightly deaths.

Marco Corona

How is this going to benefit the redneck driving a 70's-era pickup truck who routinely skirt the barriers? He's not going to give a $#!t about any technology.


Another - costly, every car needs some sort of Bluetooth linked display - solution to stopping cars before the rail crossing. These still will not stop the cretin that will drive past a line of waiting cars, round barriers, ignore bright lights and loud bells, because "heaven forbid" they might be delayed for a few seconds! I've even read recently of a parent who stopped the car ON the tracks, ran over and tried to lift up the barrier! Lost the front of the car, fortunately the kid on the car seat lived.

The Skud

This is a good option to the level crossing problem and would be far quicker and cheaper to roll out than the "we will put 2 level crossings underground per year" option. At the cost saving involved (infrastructure and trauma costs) the government could afford to pay for this in all existing vehicles. If it was also connected to the braking system, like proximity detection is in new cars, it could be relatively foolproof.


How do they plan to get the technology into every vehicle? Not everything has the capability to adapt it nor does every person have the fat wallet needed to replace a car nowadays.

Maybe the cheaper and easier solution is a second set of boom gates further back from the first set?

How about a couple of mechanically-raised humps in the road that make it near impossible to run the gate once the gates start coming down?

Of course, nothing will happen where a committee is involved and the costs can be pushed off onto the people in the vehicle who should be keeping their eyes open in the first place.

Matthew Giles
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