Take the time to check for warning signs

The ATSB is urging drivers to be vigilant and heed road-warning signs following its investigation into a collision between a road vehicle and a train at a level crossing.

The vehicle involved was a white, 2015 Toyota Camry rental vehicle

At 47 minutes past midnight, on 15 July 2017, the Spirit of Queensland tilt train was passing through Rockhampton on its way to Brisbane. Its route would take it through the intersection of Denison and William Streets, over a level crossing. The level crossing was a passive-type, with no active devices such as bells or flashing lights. Instead, there were posted signs alerting road drivers to the existence of the level crossing and the need to take care.

Five years earlier, a train had collided with a road vehicle at that intersection, and Queensland Rail and the Rockhampton Region Council had taken steps to resolve some minor issues with the sighting distance and signage.

Now, as the Spirit of Queensland approached the intersection, both of the train’s drivers identified that the intersection and its approaches were clear.

When the train crossed the intersection, however, they both heard a loud bang and there was jolt to the power car. The operating driver immediately applied the brakes and the train stopped about 40 metres later.

Upon alighting from the train, the driver found that the train had struck a road vehicle, a white Toyota Camry carrying four people inside. The car had driven in front of the train, and had been immediately struck on the driver’s side, causing it to spin and collide with the right-hand side of the train in the direction of travel.

Railway level crossing accidents have the potential to be catastrophic.

The three passengers of the car were treated for non-life-threatening injuries. The driver of the car and both train drivers were tested for alcohol and drugs. All tests returned zero readings.

Queensland Rail’s subsequent assessment of the site revealed no issues with sighting distance, signage, or design of the crossing.

According to the driver of the car, the car’s windows were open at the time of the incident, however, its occupants were actively engaged in conversation and none of them heard the train’s horn. The driver stated that the vehicle was slowed almost to a stop as it approached the intersection before accelerating to cross it. Neither the driver nor the passengers had noticed the train until immediately before the collision.

This incident is a reminder that all road vehicle drivers using railway level crossings equipped with passive controls need to be vigilant, observe road-warning signs, obey road rules and look out for trains.

ATSB Executive Director of Transport Safety Mr Nat Nagy said this was part of a familiar pattern in transport safety.

“Unfortunately, the ATSB has investigated a number of similar occurrences,” Mr Nagy said. “Last year alone, we initiated four investigations relating to level crossings. Thankfully, no one was killed this time, but that is not always the case.

“Railway level crossing accidents have the potential to be catastrophic. Taking the time to check and ensure that it’s absolutely safe to cross can make all the difference.”

Read the final investigation report: Level crossing collision between the Spirit of Queensland tilt train and a road vehicle, Denison Street, Rockhampton, Queensland

Last update 29 January 2018