If you’re one of the 14 million people who rely on the Waze GPS system, there’s a useful new feature you shouldn’t miss: the app now issues a warning as you approach any level crossing.
Before you cross the tracks, a banner automatically pops up on your screen, urging you to stay alert and proceed with caution.
Over 15,000 level crossings are open to vehicle traffic in France
Drive with confidence
Waze is the first navigation app in France1 to include this type of rail information—a unique feature that makes everyone safer on the road. With over 15,000 level crossings nationwide, many motorists drive over them every day, and though they’re marked with signals and barriers, it’s important to approach them with caution.
In France alone, over 100 collisions take place every year2, often when a driver or pedestrian fails to obey the law.
Level crossings are a hazardous part of our road system, and this new feature is a big step forward. Under the SNCF Open Data programme, we’ve madevdescriptions of our infrastructure available to the public, allowing innovations that make everyone safer.
Alain Autruffe, Level Crossing Programme Director, SNCF Réseau
The power of open data
This innovative new feature, included with the latest version of Waze, grew out of the Open Data programme launched by SNCF Group some years ago. This included geolocation data for level crossings in France, made available to the public in 2017 by SNCF Réseau as operator of the nation’s rail network.
Three years on, the new Waze feature is clear proof that open data makes a tangible, immediate contribution to public service. Guillaume Leborgne, SNCF’s Director of Transparency and Open Data, tells us why.
The Waze app now alerts users to all of the level crossings in France. How did that come about?
SNCF Réseau published the information on our Open Data site, and Waze easily integrated it into their app with help from 574 Centre-Ouest, one of our digital innovation centres. Each level crossing is now tagged with its GPS coordinates, enabling the app to warn drivers as soon as they approach it. Given the sheer number of Waze users, this is very good news for road safety.
What kind of data are we talking about?
We revisit the data periodically, but it’s static: it doesn’t update in real time or provide information on current conditions at the level crossings. So the data is pretty basic, but it has considerable value as part of a GPS app. And though Waze was the first, other navigation apps are likely to be interested as well. Encouraging them to create this kind of feature is entirely consistent with SNCF’s public service mission.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of open data. First, there’s a whole category that has to do with corporate transparency—the first information we released. That in itself is a step forward for freedom of information. For example, we’ve put all of our data on safety incidents and rail network events on the SNCF Open Data platform, where it’s freely accessible at no charge. The same is true for data describing our infrastructure and stations, and for our HR data.
What’s the other purpose of open data?
Quite simply to serve our customers, in the broadest sense of the term—passengers and partner businesses. When we allow digital apps to access select data, our offers get more exposure, and quality improves. Since we launched our Open Data programme in 2014, we’ve made over 220 datasets available to the public, including a real-time API for train routes and timetables. These datasets can benefit all of us in a multitude of ways—in fact, they’ve already been reused thousands of times.
What other datasets deliver immediate benefits for passengers?
Open data can be used in a variety of important ways—for route calculators, home automation, and all of the voice-activated personal assistants that link train timetables to other mobility services and solutions. It also delivers real-time information for our lost property service. For example, if you lose your umbrella at the station in Nantes, you can check the Gares & Connexions website—or any other site that pulls lost property data from our platform—and find out very quickly whether you can get it back. There’s also our TGVmax Seat Availability dataset, which is used by many apps. There’s no shortage of examples, and it stands to reason that there will be many more in the years ahead. That’s a very good thing. Data only has value when it’s used and shared.
1 This new feature is also available to users with the latest version of Waze (Android or iOS) in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Belgium and other countries.
2 According to French road safety statistics for 2019.