New rail safety projects and a pledge to ‘make crossings safer’ after campaign to stop rail crash tragedies

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeCountryman
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

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti has announced two new rail safety projects in Merredin and Toodyay and pledged to work out how passive level crossings along the Eastern Goldfields Railway could be made safer.

The news comes just days after Ms Saffioti broke down in tears while talking about rail and road safety in State Parliament, four weeks after her cousin’s 15-year-old son Tom Saffioti was killed in a road accident on September 30.

She was responding to a motion put forward by State Opposition leader Mia Davies which called for WA Labor to bolster safety at passive rail crossings across the State after the death of three young friends 21 years ago.

Ms Saffioti said she had approved a “budget reallocation” allowing the Public Transport Authority’s annual regional safety improvement program to be extended, with projects at Toodyay and Merredin first on the agenda.

A raised, safe access platform is set to be built at Merredin Railway Station to help people with disabilities, while a new railway pedestrian crossing west of Toodyay Railway Station is hoped to make accessing the town centre much safer.

Ms Saffioti said the Public Transport Authority and Main Roads would also work together to identify where further safety improvements could be made at level crossings along the 373km Eastern Goldfields Railway, which stretches from Perth to Kalgoorlie.

“The safety of the community using public transport facilities is of paramount importance to the McGowan Government, and one in which I have a deep, personal interest,” she said.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti.
Camera IconWA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti. Credit: Kelsey Reid

“The McGowan Government has been working to improve regional rail safety and has been converting passive level crossings to active level crossings around the state.”

Ms Saffioti said she recently discussed the issue of rail safety in regional WA with Federal Transport Minister Barnaby Joyce.

“I raised the potential for the Federal Government assisting the state in expanding this critical work,” she said.

“We will continue to pursue funding for an ongoing program of safety improvements in WA’s world class road and rail network.

“Combined with education and community awareness, the Government is committed to minimising the risk of the significant trauma and suffering of families in avoidable road and rail tragedies.”

Ms Saffioti said the Merredin project was expected to go to tender this month and be complete by April.

She said the Public Transport Authority was finalising Toodyay’s pedestrian crossing design with rail lessee Arc Infrastructure before the tender was released next year.

Ms Davies’ motion called on WA Labor to “invest in (rail safety) initiatives” and lobby the Federal Government to improve the “critical issue” nationwide.

She backed calls for “three simple yet effective changes” put forward by Jensen, Smith, Broad and Dempster families.

The safety of the community using public transport facilities is of paramount importance. I have a deep, personal interest.

Rita Saffioti

Christian Jensen, 20, Hilary Smith, 19, and Jess Broad, 18, were killed by a grain train at the Yarramony Crossing near Jennacubbine on July 8, 2000.

Their fatal accident occurred seven years after 22-year-old Grass Valley resident Amanda Dempster was killed at a passive level crossing nearby.

The changes put forward include:

  • The installation of flashing amber lights across the front of train roofs to increase visibility, and LED lights on the side of carriages so the entire length of the train is illuminated.
  • Providing ultra-high frequency radio communication on channel 40 to trains so drivers may alert truck drivers of arrival or other potential dangers.
  • Implementing solar-powered, flashing red lights on top of the level crossing warning posts, to automatically flash when a train is within 1km of a passive crossing Ms Saffioti stood to respond to the motion and quickly broke down in tears, saying the issue was “raw” for her after her Tom was killed.

The Jensen, Smith, Broad and Dempster families are part of a national campaign to stop further rail crash tragedies, rolled out after the death of NSW residents Ethan Hunter and Mark Fenton at a passive crossing near Young in February.

Christian Jensen and Lara Jensen.
Camera IconChristian Jensen and Lara Jensen. Credit: Lara Jensen
Jess Broad and Hilary Smith.
Camera IconJess Broad and Hilary Smith. Credit: Lara Jensen

Ms Jensen welcomed the funding, saying passive crossings were “neglected at best” by State Governments.

“However to to be clear in Minister Saffioti’s response to WA Nationals leader Mia Davies motion calling on WA Labor to improve safety at passive level crossings, Ms Saffioti responded by saying she would look at options for improved train lighting and solar powered crossing lights,” she said.

“There is no mention of our families’ campaign in this press release or the safety improvements we are calling for.

“ If this is an exercise in placating us, the Labor Government is going to have to do a whole lot better than that because these crossings are incredibly dangerous and cost lives with their basic signage and non-existent lighting and the approach will have to be far more far reaching than this.”

While Ms Saffioti was open to the issue of improving rail safety in Parliament — promising to speak with Ms Davies — the motion was adjourned by one of Ms Saffioti’s Labor colleagues nearly immediately after Ms Saffioti finished speaking.

Her office did not answer questions last week about when the motion would go to a vote.

In a statement, a State Government spokesman said a year-long, $2 million program to improve safety at four level crossings on the South West Line was completed in June.

Passive level crossings were converted to active crossings at Coronation Road and Logue Street in Waroona, Murray Street in Coolup, and Riverdale Road in Cookernup.

A railway pedestrian crossing was also added at Lakes Road at North Dandalup.

Passive level crossings are controlled by signage-only, while active crossings have warning bells, flashing lights and automatic boom gates.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails