Family critical of regional signage review

Headshot of Adam Poulsen
Adam PoulsenCountryman
Wondinong Station pastoralist Lara Jensen, left, with her children Gordon, Alice and Matilda, sister Annemaree Jensen, mother and father Catherine and Laurie Jensen, Beverley resident George Smith, Perth resident Milly Dempster, and Moore MLA Shane Love, at the Yarramony Rail Crossing where Christian Jensen, Hilary Smith and Jess Broad were killed on July 8, 2000.
Camera IconWondinong Station pastoralist Lara Jensen, left, with her children Gordon, Alice and Matilda, sister Annemaree Jensen, mother and father Catherine and Laurie Jensen, Beverley resident George Smith, Perth resident Milly Dempster, and Moore MLA Shane Love, at the Yarramony Rail Crossing where Christian Jensen, Hilary Smith and Jess Broad were killed on July 8, 2000. Credit: Alison Cooke

The family of a man killed in a triple fatality at a notorious country railway crossing have slammed the State Government’s Regional Roadworks Signage Review, labelling it a “massive waste of taxpayers’ money”.

Christian Jensen, 20, and his friends Jess Broad, 18, and Hilary Smith, 19, were killed in July 2000 when a fully-loaded grain train slammed into their car at the passive Yarramony Crossing near Jennacubbine, about 115km north-east of Perth.

Mr Jensen’s sister, Wondinong Station pastoralist Lara Jensen, is convinced the crash was caused by a lack of Main Roads signage, overgrown vegetation and poor train lighting. The crossing did not have boom gates or flashing lights at the time, and authorities concluded alcohol and speed were not factors in the crash.

Ms Jensen has been campaigning for better road signs in regional WA ever since and — with the help of Member for North West Central Vince Catania, who launched a petition which he presented to State Parliament last year — was instrumental in calling for an inquiry.

The review was initiated by Transport Minister Rita Saffioti in August last year and carried out by a “stakeholder reference group” including representatives from the Traffic Management Association of Australia, WorkSafe, Engineers Australia WA, RAC, Western Roads Federations, Livestock and Rural Transporters’ Association, the Transport Workers Union, WALGA, the Road Safety Commission and WA Police.

This month, Ms Saffioti announced Main Roads would lead the implementation of the review’s 13 key recommendations which include “improving driver education and awareness” and “improvements to signage design to ensure they remain upright and visible”.

But Ms Jensen said those recommendations “lacked substance in every way”, adding that rural communities wanted “solid outcomes” and “immediate action” to improve safety.

“The review should have been completely independent of the Government and top heavy with transport industry members — mining, pastoral and trucking companies — not bureaucrats,” she said.

“A review of this nature will not be genuinely independent if it is top-heavy with bureaucrats and chaired by one currently employed by a government department with a heavy Main Roads background.”

Yarramony Crossing crash victim Christian Jensen with sister Lara Jensen.
Camera IconYarramony Crossing crash victim Christian Jensen with sister Lara Jensen. Credit: Lara Jensen

Ms Jensen was referring to Department of Transport executive director regional services, Dennis O’Reilly, who chaired the group that carried out the review.

“This review was a waste of taxpayers’ money because it doesn’t go far enough to ensure that the buck stops with Main Roads and its contractors when poor signage contributes to accidents,” she said.

“Main Roads is the captain of the ship and road signage is their -responsibility: they need to step up and take ownership of the problems with both temporary and permanent signage on our rural roads.”

One recommendation Ms Jensen took particular issue with proposed imposing penalties for poor performance in a bid to improve accountability in the event of a fatal accident.

She questioned who would monitor and administer those penalties.

“If it is in fact Main Roads being allowed to police themselves as usual, it makes a complete mockery of this entire review,” Ms Jensen said.

“Main Roads should not be allowed to conduct their own accident investigations; it's a complete joke and totally compromises any outcomes for obvious reasons. I wouldn’t leave an alcoholic in charge of a brewery for the same reasons.”

The Countryman put Ms Jensen’s question to Main Roads, but a spokesman replied only that “details such as responsibility for additional enforcement measures” would be considered through the process of implementing the review’s key recommendations.

He also stressed that the review’s scope did not include permanent road signage at railway crossings.

The memorial at the Yarramony Road rail crossing, in memory of Hilary Smith, 19, Jess Broad, 18, and Christian Jensen, 20.
Camera IconThe memorial at the Yarramony Road rail crossing, in memory of Hilary Smith, 19, Jess Broad, 18, and Christian Jensen, 20. Credit: Lara Jensen

“The purpose of the review was to consider if temporary traffic signage installed in regional areas across WA was being properly secured and displayed at roadworks sites,” the spokesman said.

“This was in response to community concerns that temporary road signs frequently fall over and fail to warn drivers of hazards on the regional road network.”

The spokesman also rejected Ms Jensen’s claim Main Roads should not be allowed to conduct its own accident investigations, saying investigations were “led by WA Police and supported by Main Roads’ fatal crash site investigation process”.

“It is unlikely that reducing the resourcing and expertise allocated to investigating serious road accidents will result in better outcomes for the community,” he said.

Main Roads have appointed a senior project manager to oversee the implementation of the review’s key recommendations, and also established an implementation committee that will meet fortnightly.

A formal implementation plan with delivery targets will be developed with key stakeholders by the end of the year.

“The work undertaken by the reference group has helped focus attention on this key area of safety, so it is important we build on that momentum and continue to engage with industry and stakeholders to ensure safety at road construction sites,” Ms Saffioti said.

The crash that killed Mr Jensen and his two friends was not the first tragedy to occur at Yarramony Crossing.

A March 1997 fatality prompted Main Roads to replace existing triangular “railway crossing” signs with a “give way” sign and an advanced warning sign.

Yarramony Crossing crash victims Jess Broad and Hilary Smith.
Camera IconYarramony Crossing crash victims Jess Broad and Hilary Smith. Credit: Lara Jensen

After the 2000 triple fatality, Main Roads installed a warning sign depicting a train, and further warning signs advising of the railway crossing.

But it took another 14 years for flashing lights to be installed at the crossing. Just one in five Australian rail crossings have boom gates or lights.

The families of the Yarramony Crossing tragedy have also campaigned for decades for improved train lighting, saying lives are being put at risk by poor visibility on trains travelling through the regions.

After a coronial inquest into the Yarramony Crossing deaths, then-WA Coroner Alastair Hope called for immediate action to install some form of external auxillary lighting on locomotives which would provide an effective warning to motorists, to serve in addition to ditch lighting. That measure was never implemented.

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