Passive level crossing accident demonstrates how sighting from road vehicles can be severly restricted

Sighting from road vehicles can be severely restricted at passively protected level crossings with an acute angle road-to-track interface, a new investigation highlights. 

Warrnambool-bound passenger train collided with a semi-trailer at the Phalps Road level crossing in Larpent, Victoria

On 13 July 2016, a Warrnambool-bound passenger train collided with a semi-trailer at the Phalps Road level crossing at Larpent, near Colac, Victoria. The level crossing was passively controlled with stop signs.

When the truck initially stopped at the crossing, the train was more than 300 m away. The truck commenced moving towards the track when the train was between 220 and 260 m from the crossing. Unaware of the train approaching beyond his line of sight, the truck driver entered the level crossing.

The driver heard the train’s horn shortly before the locomotive struck the truck’s semi-trailer. After impact, the train’s locomotive and all passenger cars derailed. The locomotive driver, train conductor, 18 passengers and the truck driver were injured. There were no fatalities. 

… sighting from road vehicles can be severely restricted at passively protected crossings with an acute angle road-to-track interface. It is important that available risk controls be deployed in these circumstances and road users take special care…

The investigation, conducted by Victoria's Chief Investigator, Transport Safety, on behalf of the ATSB, found the driver was unable to detect the approaching train on his left due to his restricted view from the level crossing’s acute road-to-rail angle and the composition of the truck’s passenger-side window.

The ATSB safety message from this investigation highlights that sighting from road vehicles can be severely restricted at passively protected crossings with an acute angle road-to-track interface. It is important that available risk controls be deployed in these circumstances and road users take special care.

The ability of a truck driver to see along a railway track to their left can be affected by in-cab obstructions. The Australian Design Standard for passively controlled level crossings accounts for this possibility by requiring a viewing angle of no more 110 degrees for a driver looking to their left from the straight-ahead direction. If this viewing angel is exceeded, passive level crossing controls should not be used.

The investigation found that for a vehicle stopped at the northern side of the Phalps Road level crossing, the viewing angle to achieve the required sighting distance was 116 degrees. The Phalps Road level crossing was subsequently upgraded to active protection controls in August 2016.

Since the accident, V/Line has taken action at 25 passenger line passively controlled level crossings with left-hand viewing angles that exceed the Australian Standard. Nine have been upgraded, one has had restricted access gates installed and 15 have had speed restrictions put in place. A further 24 crossings have also been nominated for upgrade. 

Read the report RO-2016-009: Level cross collision between truck and passenger train 8753, Phalps Road, Larpent, Vic, on 13 July 2016

Last update 28 June 2019