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Rail safety: Global company behind the Post-it Note says reflective tape and sheeting could help save lives

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Cally DupeCountryman
A train flashes past a level crossing at night.
Camera IconA train flashes past a level crossing at night. Credit: Supplied

A global road safety tech company with a nearly 80-year history has thrown its support behind a campaign to improve level crossing safety and lighting on trains, saying reflective tape and sheeting combined with other lighting improvements could help save lives.

Amongst its broad portfolio — which includes iconic brands Post-it Notes and Scotch Tape — US-founded company 3M creates “high-performance” reflective materials for traffic signs and road markings around the world.

It was recently named by the US Department of Transportation as a primary stakeholder in a new National Roadway Safety Strategy to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries.

Closer to home, Perth-based 3M traffic safety specialist Sam Duly said the company was in discussions with WA’s rail safety campaigners and believed its reflective tape and sheeting could help illuminate rail cars and level crossings respectively.

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Rail safety — including level crossing safety and train illumination — has been thrown back into the spotlight in recent years, thanks to a national campaign spearheaded by 12 families who have lost loved ones in rail crossing accidents.

Amongst the group are four from WA – the Jensen, Broad, Smith and Dempster families.

The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator is expected to release a report into how to improve train lighting within weeks after rail giants Aurizon and Pacific National last year trialled new lighting techniques.

While the trials focused on additional LED and halogen beacon lighting, it is understood the potential use of reflective paint or tape is also being given detailed consideration.

Mr Duly suggested 3M’s technology, including retro-reflective sign sheeting, reflective conspicuity tapes and all-weather reflective road markings, would be “highly advantageous when applied appropriately at rail crossings”.

Perth-based 3M traffic safety specialist Sam Duly.
Camera IconPerth-based 3M traffic safety specialist Sam Duly. Credit: 3M/3M

“I would urge that rail cars must be fitted with reflective conspicuity tapes, in a similar respect to that seen on heavy vehicle truck trailers and tankers,” he said.

“I would also like to see retro-reflective warning signs, placed appropriately at each level crossing, along with at least one retro-reflective advanced warning sign installed on the approach.

“Finally, enhancing the road markings at level crossings by utilising all-weather, retro-reflective technology, provides enhanced visibility pertaining to correct road positioning and identifying the layout of the crossing ahead.”

Mr Duly’s role is focused on building awareness round road safety in WA, SA and the NT, working closely with signage manufacturers and line markers to provide retro-reflective solutions.

Some of 3M’s most commonly referred to statistics or figures include that what the general road user sees at night is only five per cent of what they see during the day, and as people age they need twice the amount of light to see, every 13 years.

Mr Duly said given the low-light environment at rural level crossings, retro-reflective lighting would boost efforts to improve train visibility using powered lighting.

“Regardless of whether powered lighting is installed, retro-reflectivity adds invaluable, additional visibility and advanced warning to drivers approaching railway crossings,” he said.

Amongst the rail safety campaigners’ concerns is the fact the existing Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board Standard AS531 Lighting and Visibility, sets out only a minimal requirement for train conspicuity.

Specific standards are not prescribed under the Rail Safety National Law, and the onus is on the rail transport operator to eliminate a safety risk “so far as is reasonably practicable” — something the campaigners argue is vague at best.

However, the campaigners want much more than reflective strips and have called for locomotives to be fitted with auxiliary lighting rotating beacons high up on locomotives and solar LED side lighting on train wagons.

WA rail safety researcher Brett Hughes — who met with Mr Duly earlier this month — last year released a best-practice train lighting concept to send to rail companies and politicians of what should be done to save lives.

The Yarramony Lights concept suggested front outline lights in two colours, side lights, rotating beacons on top, and a flashing light band across the bottom in two different colours.

It was named in honour of three lives lost in one of the worst fatal rail accidents in WA, when Christian Jensen, 20, Hilary Smith, 19, and Jess Broad, 18, were killed by a 28-wagon grain train at the Yarramony Level Crossing near Jennacubbine on July 8, 2000.

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