On 25 May 2012, freight train 3PW4 collided with a motor vehicle (Toyota Corolla) that was fouling the railway track at the Cherry Street level crossing in Werribee, Victoria. The passenger in the Corolla died as a result of the collision and the driver was injured and required treatment in hospital.
What the ATSB found
The ATSB found that the driver of the Corolla had entered the level crossing when traffic was flowing relatively freely. Shortly after the Corolla entered the crossing, the lights, bells and boom barriers protecting the crossing began to operate for the approach of train 3PW4. Unbeknown to the Corolla driver, another vehicle had broken down just beyond the crossing. This led to her having to stop the Corolla in a position which was foul of the railway track.
When the crew of train 3PW4 saw the Corolla fouling the track, they made an emergency brake application. However, the train could not be stopped in time to prevent the collision.
The ATSB’s investigation found that the level crossing signage and road markings were generally in accordance with the applicable Australian Standards and that the crossing warning lights, bells and boom barriers had operated correctly.
The ATSB also found that while the collision was a direct result of the Corolla being in a position foul of the approaching train, the safety issues involved were more complex and extensive. The investigation identified several opportunities to enhance the safety of the existing grade crossing including; changes to the road design, the provision of short range warning lights, improving the coordination of the crossing protection system with the nearby pedestrian traffic lights, reducing the length of the crossing and the provision of suitable refuge/escape area(s).
What's been done as a result
Metro Trains Melbourne has advised that they will investigate the potential benefits gained from fitting short range lights at this and other similar level crossings. They have also advised that the options available for shortening the level crossing length will be explored in consultation with the Wyndham City Council.
The Wyndham City Council has advised that actions have been taken to improve the coordination of the nearby pedestrian crossing lights and that further coordination improvements are being considered. Council officers are also investigating ways to provide escape/refuge areas.
Although the road rules (Victorian Road Safety Act 2009) make motorists primarily responsible for avoiding a collision with a train when negotiating a level crossing, prudent road and level crossing design is essential in helping to mitigate the risk of road and rail vehicles colliding.
Where it is feasible, road and rail authorities should consider additional measures to enhance the situational awareness of motorists negotiating level crossings and to address the risks associated with traffic queuing.
It is also imperative that motorists approaching level crossings are extremely vigilant.