A CAMPAIGN to make level crossings safer has been mounted in New South Wales following a double fatality in the Bribbaree district near Young.
Driving the campaign is Maddie Bott, whose fiancé Ethan Hunter and his colleague Mark Fenton were travelling in a truck carrying gypsum which collided with a moving freight train as it crossed south of Eurabba Lane on February 23.
The site is one of more than 40 passive crossings on the Stockinbingal to Parkes line (S2P), recently upgraded as part of the Inland Rail project which will provide a freight link between Brisbane and Melbourne.
Inland Rail will see train frequency increase on the line, and Ms Bott said it will also increase the risk of collisions at passive crossings marked to motorists only with stop or give-way signs.
Call for lights
In her Improving safety at level crossings e-petition on the Parliament of NSW website, Ms Bott said the crossing where Mr Hunter and Mr Fenton died had only a stop sign to mark it.
“Visibility at this crossing was affected by many factors including overgrown grass, trees blocking the view, and the road they approached the crossing from is not at 90 degrees to the track,” she stated.
“Had this crossing had lights, these factors would have been irrelevant as they would (have) been notified of the oncoming train and would not (have) proceeded to cross the railway track.”
The e-petition calls for the NSW Legislative Assembly to:
- Make warning lights mandatory at all level crossings;
- Decrease speed limits on highways for vehicles approaching level crossings; and,
- Make trains more visible with reflective material and better lights.
The e-petition yesterday hit the 20,000 signatures from NSW residents needed to enable it to be tabled and debated in the NSW Parliament, and two weeks ahead of deadline.
NSW has more than 3800 level crossings, and more than 1400 are on public roads.
Ms Bott said only 30 per cent of those have active warning controls.
Support from MP
The accident occurred in the Cootamundra electorate, and its Member of Parliament Steph Cooke has met with Ms Bott and senior members of the NSW Government for preliminary discussions about improving safety at level crossings.
“We owe it to her and all those who have lost loved ones in rail-crossing accidents to fight for improved safety,” Ms Cooke said in a statement.
S2P is now one of 13 sections in the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s (ARTC) Inland Rail project.
It has seen several level-crossing accidents since 2000.
Two passive level-crossing fatalities occurred between Forbes and Wirrinya, the first in May 2005 when the driver of a Landcruiser died at Grawlin, and the second in March 2007, when a truck driver died at Back Creek.
In February 2020, and only two crossings south of Eurabba Lane, a truck hit a train at Bribbaree, and the truck driver escaped with minor injuries.
Improvements north of Parkes
North of S2P is the Parkes to Narromine section, and ARTC has said it has improved safety at about 30 level crossings on the upgraded stretch which was commissioned last year.
In late April, the NSW Government reduced speed limits from 100 kilometres per hour to 80km/h on the approach to active level crossings along the Inland Rail route in Parkes and Narromine to improve safety for motorists.
“Crashes at level crossings have the potential to cause multiple fatalities and have devastating impacts on families and local communities,” Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said.
“From 2001 to 2020, there were 154 crashes between trains and vehicles at level crossings in NSW which resulted in 14 fatalities and 24 serious injuries.
“More than 30pc of these crashes occurred at locations where the speed limit was 100km/h or greater.”
In September 2015 in Narromine, a truck and train collided on an active crossing, and the truck driver died.
The most recent level-crossing accident in NSW occurred yesterday afternoon south of Dungog, and three occupants of the passenger vehicle involved have been hospitalised.
Level crossing accidents occur in agricultural areas across Australia.
In South Australia last year, a vehicle driver and passenger died in an incident at Mallala in February, and a driver, the sole occupant, died in April at Culburra.
At Vite Vite in south-west Victoria, a collision last month injured the driver and passenger in a truck as well as the train driver.
Train crew members rarely die in level crossing accidents, but can bear the trauma of being involved in collisions they are often powerless to avoid.
They are also sometimes alarmed by the near misses they have with vehicles which fail to stop at level crossings.
Reasons for that can be many, and include misjudgement about stopping distance required, fatigue, or reduced visibility caused by obstructions, glare or adverse weather.
“At night and in fog, the risk is through the roof,” one source in the rail industry said.
Four years later, an overbridge dubbed the Five Mates Crossing was built.
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