Rail giants unite for ‘global’ review of rail crossing safety after deaths

EXCLUSIVE, Cally DupeCountryman
Rail safety week raises safety awareness around railway lines.
Camera IconRail safety week raises safety awareness around railway lines. Credit: Supplied by Brookfield Rail.

Australia’s rail safety watchdog has launched a review into improving visibility at rail crossings after mounting pressure from families whose loved ones were killed by trains.

Countryman can today reveal the review has been commissioned by the Office for the National Rail Safety Regulator and will be carried out by the Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation to examine current research and best practice across the globe.

A spokesman for the ONRSR said the review would delve into “current research and best practice” on train visibility to highlight potential improvements in Australia.

He said a project team had been put together with representatives from ONRSR, the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board, the Australasian Railway Association and the Freight on Rail Group, with the intention to “present findings as soon as possible”.

“Train conspicuity (visibility) is a significant control for managing the risk at level crossings,” the spokesman said.

He said there was an “onus” on rail transport operators within the $26 billion rail industry to eliminate a safety risk as “reasonably practicable”, with minimum requirements for lighting and visibility prescribed by the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board Standard AS7531.

A spokeswoman for Federal Transport Minister Barnaby Joyce said the review into “best practice” train visibility was expected to be complete by the end of the year.

“The aim of the review is to identify short-term options governments and industry can adopt to improve level crossing safety and train visibility, as well as to consider longer-term options for improvement,” she said.

The spokeswoman said a “number of people” who had lost loved ones at level crossings had written to Mr Joyce since he was sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister and named Federal Transport Minister in June.

“The Federal Government is acting on a number of suggestions people have made, including regarding the visibility of trains and upgrading more level crossings and will continue to engage with affected families,” she said.

Among those that penned a letter to Mr Joyce were seven of WA’s most well-known pastoral and farming families, who sent a joint letter calling for Federal action on safety at level crossings nationwide.

The families have thrown their support behind Orange resident Maddie Bott, whose fiance Ethan Hunter was killed by a freight train in NSW in March.

Ms Bott circulated a 20,000-signature petition calling on the NSW Government to implement a raft of changes.

Her fiance, Mr Hunter and his work colleague Mark Fenton, were hit by a freight train and killed at a passive level crossing 70km north-west of Young, in NSW, in March.

The rail safety campaigners have called for three major changes, including:

  • 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
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

Lara and Annemaree Jensen’s brother Christian and two of his friends, Hilary Smith and Jess Broad, were killed when their car was hit by a wheat train at the passive Yarramony Crossing near Jennacubbine on July 8, 2000.

Annemaree said she had little faith in the ONRSR, with its website saying it worked “with rail industry operators” to “decrease regulatory burden on the rail industry”

“I would have thought that immediate publicly accountable action was the first responsibility of our national rail safety regulator, not a last resort option,” she said.

“Interestingly too, the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator has no page on its website for rail safety achievements.

“They are too busy wasting taxpayer funds by sitting around in cosy meetings with industry to do anything for the Australian community.”

ONRSR’s role is to oversee compliance with the Rail Safety National Law, which requires that all rail transport operators manage the risks associated with rail operations and ensure safety as far as is “reasonably practicable”.

The ONSR’s most recent review was launched in June examining the risks associated with long-leading operations after concerns were raised about the practice of driving a locomotive with the drivers’ cab at the rear — relative to the direction of travel.

That review aimed to call out unsafe long leading operations after identifying that risks of collision and derailment were greater because the driver has a more restrictive view of the route ahead.

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