The Ghan level crossing collision: final ATSB report
The ATSB investigation of a collision between The Ghan passenger train and a double road-train has found that the accident occurred because the road-train was driven through a 'Stop' sign at a level crossing at an estimated speed of 50 km/h, linked to local truck driver practice and medical issues.
The final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau also found that The Ghan hit the road-train just behind its prime mover at a speed of 101 km/h on the afternoon of 12 December 2006 at the Fountain Head Road level crossing at Ban Ban Springs, about 170 kilometres south-east of Darwin.
Both of the train's locomotives, a wagon and nine passenger carriages subsequently derailed. Many of the 64 passengers and 17 staff on board sustained minor injuries with the driver of the road-train and one passenger hospitalised for several days following the collision.
The road-train driver had been carrying road-base material across the Fountain Head Road level crossing about thirty times each day for the previous month and had apparently only seen about four trains in that time. It was the driver's practice, and that of other drivers engaged in the same work, to slow rather than stop at the level crossing.
The train driver had appropriately sounded the locomotive horn three times before the collision and the headlight was illuminated and on high beam.
The investigation found that road-train driver had severe bilateral hearing loss, to the extent that he would not have been eligible to hold his unrestricted heavy vehicle licence, and that this hearing loss would have compromised his ability to hear the locomotive horn in the time leading to the collision.
The ATSB also noted concerns regarding the adequacy of sighting distances at level crossings for vehicles up to 53.5 metres long using such crossings.
The ATSB investigation report acknowledges the initial emergency response measures taken by GBS Gold Pty Ltd and the work being undertaken by the Australian Transport Council, the Northern Territory Government and the Australasian Railway Association in regard to initiatives intended to raise public awareness of the safety risks associated with level crossings.
The ATSB report recommends that relevant authorities consider the issues identified by the investigation in relation to the medical examination of heavy vehicle drivers, sighting distance requirements at level crossings used by high combined gross mass vehicles, driver compliance at railway level crossings, and accident response in light of the remoteness of much of the Northern Territory rail corridor.
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