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.

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