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WA rail safety advocates commend CBH lighting trials after Goomalling site tour but call for long-term change

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A lighting trial on a CBH Group train.
Camera IconA lighting trial on a CBH Group train. Credit: Lara Jensen/Lara Jensen

WA rail safety campaigners have given a cautious tick of approval to the CBH Group and rail operator Aurizon’s “world-first” rail lighting trials after seeing the improvements with their own eyes at night.

Among the group touring the CBH lighting trials recently were WAFarmers president John Hassell, rail safety researcher and Curtin University professor Brett Hughes and WA families whose loved ones were killed by trains.

Murchison-based Wondinong station pastoralist Lara Jensen started advocating for safety upgrades at level crossings after her brother Christian Jensen and his friends Jess Broad and Hilary Smith were killed by a CBH grain train near Jennacubbine in 2000.

Ms Jensen called on CBH to lead the way and adopt improved lighting on trains at the conclusion of the trials, saying its members were amongst those that had lobbied for the changes for two decades.

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“CBH is a co-op that represents 3500 WA grain growing businesses as well as rural families just like ours — the families of rail crash statistics — who have been lobbying for decades for these safety lighting improvements,” she said.

“It is only right that improved safety lighting on trains is made the priority by these rail operators to protect rural families that are the source of such massive profits, in addition to any road user.

“This includes motorists and the truck drivers who interact with their business and the train drivers with the job of moving agricultural commodities like grain.”

The trials come after two of Australia’s biggest rail companies, Aurizon and Pacific National, agreed last year to trial lighting — predominantly LED and halogen beacon lighting — on their trains in response to a national campaign aimed at reducing the number of people killed at level crossings.

The campaign has been spearheaded by a group of 12 families who have lost family in rail crossing accidents, including four from regional WA — the Jensen, Broad, Smith and Dempster families.

The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator appointed the Monash Institute of Rail Technology to assess the trials’ success, with a report due within weeks.

Up for assessment was the impact of additional locomotive lighting on the visibility of trains, using what the ONSR said was “world-first” technology to measure the ambient background and luminance of a locomotive when fitted with additional lighting.

Ms Jensen urged CBH and Aurizon to lead the way nationally and make the lighting upgrades permanent across existing and new fleet trains.

“We want to see the lighting improvements that are part of this trial become permanent, mandatory safety lighting installations on all trains in Australia as soon as possible — both those in the existing fleet and those in the commissioning phase,” she said.

“We would also like to thank CBH upper management as well for the dialogue which we look forward to continuing in the future.”

Dr Hughes last year created a best-practice train lighting concept to send to rail companies and politicians as an example of what should be done to save lives.

He also commended CBH for overcoming previous limitations to “trial new innovations”.

Rail safety researcher Brett Hughes has developed a train lighting concept to send to rail companies to suggest how to save lives. Pictured is Brett at home in South Perth
Camera IconRail safety researcher Brett Hughes has developed a train lighting concept to send to rail companies to suggest how to save lives. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

He hoped updated versions of the lighting improvements would improve train visibility that had been “unchanged for decades”.

“CBH has shown that new technologies, clever thinking and good engineering can overcome previous limitations, some of which were quite weak,” Dr Hughes said.

“We need to provide every opportunity for road users to not make any errors and avoid crashes.

“Everyone involved needs to bring their best game to level crossing safety: road managers, rail operators, drivers and regulators.

“And ministers responsible for regulation and infrastructure have a primary responsibility too.

“It’s time for other train operators hiding behind weak standards, inadequate regulation, secrecy and obfuscation for over 20 years to lift their game.”

There are more than 23,000 level crossings in Australia, including 509 passive level crossings in WA.

Of these, 417 are controlled by stop signs while the remaining 92 — many in the Wheatbelt — are fitted only with give way signs.

CBH chief operating officer Mick Daw said the trials were “progressing well” and the company was committed to improving safety in regional communities.

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