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The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has found that heavy fog and the inappropriate speed of a truck in the conditions were the main contributors to a collision with a freight train at the Lismore Skipton Road level crossing at Lismore, Victoria on 25 May 2006. The 34 year old driver of the truck was fatally injured in the accident which closed the main Adelaide to Melbourne rail line for a period of six days with the total damage bill estimated at $13.5 million.

The collision occurred when the truck drove into the side of the second locomotive while the train was on the level crossing. This collision occurred shortly before sunrise with visibility in the fog as low as 20 metres and certainly no greater than 50 metres. The passive level crossing was fitted with give-way signs for road users and was not protected by lights or bells to indicate the presence of a train.

The truck was a 19 metre loaded rigid tipper/quad axle combination that was travelling south on the Lismore Skipton Road. The train was 1.3 kilometres long, weighed over 4300 tonnes, and was being hauled by three locomotives travelling east from Adelaide to Melbourne.

The locomotive data logger revealed that the speed of the train at impact was 112 km/h, that the locomotive horn was sounded twice before the collision and that the train's headlight was illuminated. The ATSB calculated the speed of the truck as being between 53 and 78 km/h, with the likelihood that it was towards the upper end of this range.

The force of impact was such that the second and third locomotives of the train were derailed and this resulted in a 'domino' effect that subsequently derailed 41 of the train's 64 freight wagons.

Other safety factors identified in the investigation that did not directly contribute to the collision were the possibility that the truck driver may have been suffering some effects of fatigue and also that the level crossing approach signage and sighting distances did not comply with relevant standards and guidelines. The investigation also noted that in times of reduced visibility it may not be possible for a motorist to safely negotiate a level crossing protected only by give way or stop signs based on sighting distances alone.

The report acknowledges the work being undertaken by the Australian Transport Council and the Australasian Railway Association in regard to the National Railway Level Crossing Safety Strategy and the safety actions already taken or underway by the National Transport Commission and VicRoads.

Recommendations are made to VicRoads and the Department of Infrastructure in relation to ensuring that other passive level crossings in Victoria are to standard, ensuring that road and rail authorities jointly assess the risks of large road vehicles traversing level crossings, and increasing road user education regarding the risks of passive level crossings.

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Last update 01 April 2011