WA Nationals back ‘vital’ regional rail crossing safety campaign

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Wondingong Station pastoralist Lara Jensen with her children Gordon, 5, and Alice, 4, and Matilda, 2, her sister Annemaree Jensen, mother and father Catherine and Laurie Jensen (third from right), with Beverley resident George Smith, and 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 IconWondingong Station pastoralist Lara Jensen with her children Gordon, 5, and Alice, 4, and Matilda, 2, her sister Annemaree Jensen, mother and father Catherine and Laurie Jensen (third from right), with Beverley resident George Smith, and 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 WA Nationals have thrown their support behind a campaign for improved safety at regional rail crossings, saying the State and Federal Governments are not being asked “to move mountains” but are being asked to help save lives by boosting train visibility.

The Central Wheatbelt Electorate Council-led policy, supported unanimously at the WA Nationals’ state conference in Northam, is expected to be flagged with the party’s Federal colleagues in coming weeks with the hope they would also support the campaign.

WA Nationals leader and State Opposition leader Mia Davies said both State and Federal Governments needed to come to the table and support the proposed safety measures.

“The changes these families are calling for, such as solar powered, flashing red lights on top of warning posts are basic but vital improvements that can help improve rail crossings in regional areas nationwide,” she said.

State Opposition leader Mia Davies.
Camera IconState Opposition leader Mia Davies. Credit: Kelsey Reid

“I am proud the WA Nationals have unanimously voted to continue our party’s commitment to work with these families to make the case for change.”

The motion would involve installing flashing amber lights across the front of train roofs to increase visibility and LED lights installed on the sides of carriages so the entire length of the train is illuminated.

It would also involve providing ultra-high frequency radio communication on Channel 40 to trains so train drivers may alert truck drivers of arrival or other potential dangers, and implementing solar-powered flashing red lights — activated by a low-powered, dedicated frequency radio transmitter within a 5km range — on top of the level crossing warning posts.

The red lights would automatically flash when a train was within 1km of a passive crossing.

Some of WA’s most well known pastoral and farming families are behind the push for safety improvements, with just one in five Australian rail crossings having boom gates or lights.

WA Nationals Moore MLA Shane Love said the passing of the rail safety motion — put forward by the Central Wheatbelt Electorate Council, Avon and Moore — was a momentous occasion for families impacted by deaths at rail crossings.

“To lose a loved one in incidents like this is horrific but also preventable, particularly when simple and relatively inexpensive changes can make all the difference,” Mr Love said.

“The hard work in raising this important issue does not stop now — we will look to elevate this issue to our Federal colleagues who will have a great hand in implementing greater safety measures at rail crossings nationwide.”

The changes these families are calling for, such as solar powered, flashing red lights on top of warning posts are basic but vital improvements that can help improve rail crossings in regional areas nationwide.

Mia Davies

Wondinong Station pastoralist Lara Jensen has been a major driver of a nationwide campaign by families — including seven from WA — who have lost loved ones, calling for improved train lighting and passive level crossing safety.

Ms 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 on July 8, 2000.

After a coronial inquest into the Yarramony Crossing deaths, then-WA coroner Alastair Hope called for immediate action to install some form of external axillary lighting on locomotives, which would provide an effective warning to motor vehicle drivers, to serve in addition to ditch lighting.

That measure was never implemented.

“Our families have lost loved ones due to collisions with trains at passive level crossings and have been calling for immediate amendments to the Rail Safety National Law to improve train lighting in line with the road transport industry,” Ms Jensen said.

“Recommendations for improved train lighting go back as far as 1968 in WA and alarmingly, there has only been minimal progress made to make locomotives and wagons more visible to the travelling public.

“Our families are very grateful for the WA Nationals’ support of our rail safety campaign, and we are elated to hear that the convention motion on rail safety at the conference has been passed.”

Also driving the campaign is Orange resident Maddie Bott, whose fiance Ethan Hunter was killed by a freight train in NSW in March.

Mr Hunter and his colleague Mark Fenton were carting gypsum across a farm 70km north-west of Young when they were killed.

She handed a 21,000-signature petition to the NSW Government in July calling on a raft of changes, with speed limits for vehicular traffic using active crossings in NSW reduced to 80kmph as a result.

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