A passenger coach was struck by a freight train after it stopped foul of a Geelong level crossing when the coach driver stopped on the crossing after boom gate warning lights activated, despite having adequate time to clear the crossing, a new transport safety investigation notes.
The coach, with a driver and single passenger on-board, was operating a rail-replacement service from Melbourne to Waurn Ponds in Geelong on the morning of 2 April 2020 and had just entered the Station Street level crossing when the crossing warning system activated in response to an approaching freight train. The driver of the coach immediately applied the brakes and the coach stopped within the crossing, foul of the first track.
When the crew of the freight train observed the coach, the locomotive driver made an emergency brake application while the co-driver began to sound the horn. The coach driver heard the train horn and attempted, unsuccessfully, to reverse the coach off the crossing.
The train was unable to stop and impacted the front-left corner of the coach. The coach driver and passenger were injured in the collision and were taken to hospital. The coach driver was released from hospital the same day, and the passenger the next day.
The subsequent investigation into the incident, conducted on behalf of the ATSB by Victoria’s Chief Investigator Transport Safety, confirmed that the coach had stopped past the boom barrier with the front-left corner of the coach foul of the track.
The acute road-to-rail track angle and the position of the left-front corner of the bus relative to the track may have influenced the driver’s perception of the crossing, the investigation notes.
“Had the driver not stopped the coach when the crossing warning system activated, there was adequate time to complete the crossing prior to the arrival of the freight train,” said Chief Investigator Chris McKeown.
At interview with transport safety investigators, the driver indicated that he did not continue over the crossing as he did not want to be reported for crossing with the bells ringing.
Further, the driver indicated that he was surprised when the crossing was activated, as they were under the impression that V/Line trains were not running because they were driving a train replacement service.
When the coach driver was alerted to the train’s presence by the train horn, the driver recalled attempting to reverse the coach, but reported that they had forgotten to release the park brake.
“Motorists need to be aware that in situations where passenger train services are not operating, freight trains may be operating, and normal safety precautions should be observed,” stated Mr McKeown.
Although probably not directly related to this incident, in the previous six years, there had been 20 occurrences of the boom barrier strikes by road vehicles on the inside lane of the Station Street approach. This suggests that the crossing configuration is probably conducive to driver error on that approach, and that additional risk controls may be warranted, Mr McKeown noted.
“While there were no identified queueing issues at the crossing that may have triggered a requirement to applying yellow box markings, such markings may have assisted the driver’s identification of the crossing limits and the hazardous zone.”
Read the final report RO-2020-004: Level crossing collision between freight train 5KQ7 and a road coach, Norlane, Victoria, on 2 April 2020Last update 03 February 2021