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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6782

Ms KING (9:02 PM) —On behalf of the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, I present the committee’s report entitled Level crossing safety: An update to the 2004 train illumination report, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Ms KING —The committee’s interest in level crossing safety is long running. In 2004, the committee released a report entitled Train illumination: Inquiry into some measures proposed to improve train visibility and reduced level crossing accidents, which examined the connection between the illumination of trains and collisions at level crossings. Since tabling that report five years ago, there have been some major improvements in the illumination of trains but sadly the number of incidents at level crossings—often resulting in catastrophic consequences—remains high. Accidents such as the tragedy in Kerang in June 2007 in which 11 people were killed and 20 injured when a semitrailer collided with a passenger train reveal the frightening reality of level crossing safety.

The report therefore examines the progress that has been made in the illumination of trains in the intervening years while also looking more broadly at the issue of level crossing safety and makes recommendations for measures that will reduce the occurrence of these accidents and save lives. I am aware that my colleague, the deputy chair of the committee, has a longstanding interest in trains and in particular the need for them to be properly illuminated. I am certain that he will discuss this issue in greater detail. Therefore, I will only briefly mention that the illumination of trains has been greatly improved by the 2007 introduction of Australian Standard 7531; however, the committee recommends that better maintenance of the reflective strips applied to trains be a mandated requirement of the standard. The committee is also of the opinion that the standard should be more strictly enforced.

During the course of this inquiry, the committee heard that the causes of level crossing crashes are varied and while there is no single cause of all level crossing crashes the most significant factor leading to level crossing collisions today is the behaviour of motor vehicle drivers. It seems that motorists continue to disobey road rules at level crossings. The current focus on driver behaviour has resulted in a three-tiered approach to level crossing safety: education, enforcement and engineering. The committee endorses this approach in its report and notes that improvements in all these areas are required in order to achieve safe level crossings.

The committee acknowledges the work that is being done by the states and territories to educate motorists of the dangers at level crossings, but encourages continued effort as it is apparent that the message is not always getting through to motorists. For example, the committee was distressed by the results of a national behavioural study of motorists which showed that huge numbers of motor vehicle drivers disobey road rules at level crossings. Therefore the committee’s report recommends that consistent penalties be set across all jurisdictions and that the speed limit at level crossings on major highways that currently have a speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour or more be reduced to 80 kilometres per hour.

In terms of engineering, the committee supports the use of rumble strips at level crossings to alert motor vehicle drivers of the crossing ahead. The report recommends further trials of passive rumble strips at a selection of level crossings around Australia and a program to begin trialling active rumble strips at some of the most dangerous crossings.

The committee also examined technological solutions to level crossing safety. In this report the committee reiterates its support for intelligent transport systems as stated in the 2004 report and recommends that the government support ongoing research into this important technology to speed its wider implementation. It also recommended that the government, through the Australian Transport Council, encourage further research into the feasibility of a radio cut-in warning system which would warn motor vehicle drivers, particularly truck drivers, as they approach a level crossing of the presence of an oncoming train.

In the course of its examination of level crossings the committee became increasingly aware of a distinct lack of aggregate data which details the causes of these often horrific crashes across Australia. With this in mind the committee recommends the establishment of a national database which will collate data from all level crossing crashes and fatalities in all jurisdictions to provide a better national picture of where and why these collisions occur. The committee also recommends that the 2003 National Level Crossing Safety Strategy be updated. The committee strongly supports this national approach to level crossing safety but believes that the strategy should be regularly reviewed and kept up to date to provide better national policy guidance. Level crossing safety is an ongoing problem across Australia. While the states continue to focus on this issue, it was the committee’s intention in undertaking this update to focus some national attention on the risks posed by level crossings around the country.

The committee is encouraged by the government’s recent announcement as part of the nation building and jobs plan of funding to install 200 new boom gates and other safety measures at high-risk level crossings. It is an unprecedented commitment and one we certainly hope continues. I would like to express on behalf of the committee our gratitude to all those who participated in the inquiry and to the staff of the secretariat: Michael Crawford, Sophia Nicolle and Kane Moir—two of whom are here in the advisers box.