The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is conducting a safety study into level crossing collisions involving trains and heavy road vehicles in Australia.The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) currently lists level crossing safety as one of its four national priorities. As stated on its website:
There are more than 23,000 level crossings in Australia many of which involve interactions between rail operations, road traffic, cyclists and pedestrians every minute of every day. At all of these level crossings there exists a level of risk to safety – indeed, other than suicide and trespass, accidents at level crossings are the primary cause of railway related fatalities among the general public.
For the 6-year period from July 2015 to June 2021, there were 211 collisions involving rail vehicles and road vehicles at level crossings in Australia (about 35 per year). Of these, 34 of the collisions involved heavy road vehicles (that is, heavy freight vehicles or buses). This included 11 collisions involving heavy road vehicles in the last financial year (July 2020 to June 2021).
A small proportion of level crossing collisions tragically result in fatalities and/or serious injuries to those on board road vehicles. In addition, some level crossing collisions that involve heavy road vehicles can result in serious adverse consequences to those on board trains.
Significant accidents in Australia involving collisions between passenger trains and heavy road vehicles include the fatal collisions at Kerang, Victoria (5 June 2007) and Rungoo, Queensland (27 November 2007). More recently there have been other collisions resulting in injuries to train passengers (for example Larpent, Victoria on 13 July 2016) or train drivers (for example Parkeston, Western Australia on 22 February 2021), as well as a number of collisions that have resulted in fatalities to those on board the heavy road vehicles.
ONRSR, the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB), state governments, rail infrastructure managers and other organisations are currently involved in a variety of activities to enhance level crossing safety, and have been so for several years.
To help supplement the ongoing activities of these organisations, the ATSB believes it is appropriate to do a review of recent level crossing collisions involving trains and heavy road vehicles to determine their characteristics and circumstances, and also determine if there are any unidentified systemic safety issues or learning opportunities that could enhance the safety of future transport operations.
As part of the investigation, investigators will:
- Review previous level crossing collisions involving heavy road vehicles and trains in Australia for a period of at least 10 years, to identify common characteristics and possible trends.
- Conduct a more detailed analysis of level crossing collisions involving heavy road vehicles and trains over a shorter time period to identify common characteristics, circumstances and likely safety factors. This will include obtaining the available evidence associated with relevant collisions that occurred during recent years (for example July 2019 – June 2021), and obtaining evidence on any such collisions that may occur during the next year (July 2021 – June 2022).
- Review the risk controls currently in place to manage the risk of level crossing collisions involving heavy road vehicles and the activities currently being undertaken to further reduce risk.
A final report will be published at the conclusion of the investigation. Should any safety critical information be discovered at any time during the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify operators and regulators so appropriate and timely safety action can be taken.