Train lighting standards still in the spotlight with plans to hold second round of consultation next year

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Cally DupeCountryman
Lighting being trialled on a CBH Group train.
Camera IconLighting being trialled on a CBH Group train. Credit: Lara Jensen/Lara Jensen

Australia’s contentious new train lighting standards will be thrown open for a second round of public consultation early next year to take into account new trials focused on how side and beacon lighting could bolster visibility.

The Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board recently closed four weeks of public consultation on a draft set of standards designed to modernise the Australian Standard 7531: Train Visibility, abbreviated to AS 7531, for the first time since 2015.

The initial standard was first published in 2006 and governs lighting and visibility requirements for rolling stock nationwide.

A RISSB spokeswoman the first version of the new AS 7531 would be released next month and would include ways to better train visibility — including environmental factors, train conspicuity and the visibility of rolling stock from a road users’ perspective.

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She said it would also consider the technical requirements for the use of LED light technology and visibility lights, and enhanced maintenance for lighting fixtures, reflectors and livery.

Families of train crash victims last month slammed the draft standards for failing to recommend their calls for flashing beacon lights and side lighting on trains, saying the dollar rail industry was being left with blood on its hands.

In response, the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator — which held lighting trials on CBH Group and Aurizon trains last year — teamed up with the Monash Institute of Rail Technology to hold new trials focused on side lighting and visibility beacon lighting.

The trials this year came after the two parties last year assessed the “impact of additional locomotive lighting on the overall visibility of trains” using LED and halogen beacon lighting.

The RISSB spokeswoman said the standard would need to be updated to include the ONRSR’s latest trial results, and confirmed a second round of public consultation would also be held “early next year”.

The content and number of submissions would be kept confidential, she said, in line with RISSB’s obligations under the Privacy Act.

“The significant improvements included in the draft standard have been released for public comment so the industry can commence implementation as soon as possible,” the RISSB spokeswoman said.

“The findings from these (ONRSR) trials and any associated technical requirements will be considered for further amendments to the standard in 2024.

“As findings from the current ONRSR-commissioned trials and any associated technical requirements become known, RISSB will… consider further amendments to the standard.”

RISSB chief executive Damian White said the organisation was “committed to improving safety outcomes at level crossings” and would continue to consult with relevant parties once the latest ONRSR trials were complete.

Two reports released in the past two years called for an overhaul of national train visibility standards, including the ONRSR and Monash Institute of Rail Technology report released in March and the Freight Train Visibility Review by the Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation last year.

The overarching finding of the Monash report was that additional lighting on trains — specifically additional beacon lighting — improved visibility, especially when a level-crossing angle was obtuse or the road user was in close range to the level crossing.

CBH Group was the first major company with rolling stock to announce plans to bolster its train lighting in response to the trial results and a 20-year, national and grassroots rail safety campaign to stop people being killed by trains.

The campaign group includes four families from WA — the Jensen, Broad, Smith and Dempster families, who have all lost loved ones to level crossing accidents in regional WA.

Their cause has attracted support from more than 20 groups including the National Farmers Federation, Australian Trucking Association, Western Roads Federation, the Livestock and Rural Transporters Association, the CWA of WA, WAFarmers, and more.

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