A review of high train speeds on routes with only passive level crossings and frequent vehicle use has been called for by the Australian Trucking Association, (ATA).
In a submission to the Victorian Parliament’s Inquiry into Improving Safety at Level Crossings, the ATA has outlined high train speeds should only occur where grade separation or active crossings with suitable clearance times are present.
With level crossing crashes likely to increase without intervention, due to increasing transport demand across the board, the ATA has addressed the importance of road rail crossing design and appropriate train speeds.
"The ideal situation for any crossing is grade separation, thereby avoiding any potential for direct impacts between trains and motor vehicles," said ATA chief executive, Stuart St Clair.
The ATA notes the subsequent release of a report from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) on the Results on Trails for Heavy Vehicle Clearance Times at Level Crossings.
The ATSB study targeted the Fountain Head Road Level Crossing in the Northern Territory. Its final analysis identified the Australian Standard used to assess lines of sight as ‘probably inadequate’ for the
large truck combinations tested. The time taken for road trains to traverse the level crossing was recorded and assessed against available time given the sight distance and train speed of 115 kilometres per hour, which showed inadequacies, such that any driver would be unable to make an informed decision on whether it would be safe to proceed into the crossing.
Although this particular study took place at only one level crossing, the ATSB report explained similar issues are likely to exist at other level crossings used by road trains and where train speeds are relatively high. A risk-based approach is required that considers frequency of use of passive level crossings by road users.
"The ATSB findings only enforce the ATA’s position that trains are simply going too fast through some passive level crossings," said Mr St Clair. "We do not want to see yet another avoidable level crossing accident or even a near miss; there is a need for road and rail providers to step up and adopt more effective risk minimisation programs," he said.
The ATA understands that level crossing incidents represent a relatively small percentage of road user crash rates; yet they continue to remain a significant issue for rail and road operators.
The ATA believes that train speeds could be adjusted to match the available ‘line of sight’ at passive crossings with high traffic flows to improve safety.
"It is simply too dangerous and unacceptable if drivers, who are fully adhering to the road laws, cannot clear a crossing before a train travelling at high speed consumes the available line of sight," said Mr St Clair. "Rail operators need to match train speeds to level crossing types and available lines of sight and develop a further awareness to the traffic mix using the crossings."