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.
All rail safety stakeholders, including the general public, have a role to play in improving safety at level crossings and ONRSR continues to advocate for co-operation between all parties that will ultimately help reduce the rate of fatalities and serious injuries associated with collisions. ONRSR also continues to be fully supportive of the work being done by government and industry to remove level crossings and to commit to a policy of no new level crossings unless totally unavoidable.
For the past twelve months, ONRSR, on behalf of the National Level Crossing Safety Committee (NLCSC), has been developing a National Level Crossing Portal - www.nlxp.com.au. This allows for level crossing safety data to be available to a range of rail safety stakeholders, on demand, through a self-serve online portal. The data sets assist decision makers in government, industry and among other stakeholders to be better informed when making safety investment and planning decisions or undertaking research. Stage one of the portal initially incorporates ONRSR occurrence data and some ALCAM data.
The Rail Safety National Law (RSNL) requires that rail transport operators and road managers coordinate actions at a rail or road crossing to ensure that the safety risks have been identified and are minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. Penalties may apply to rail transport operators and road managers who breach their requirements at a rail or road crossing.
They must each:
The specific responsibilities of each are described in sections 106-108 of the RSNL.
An interface agreement is a formal written agreement between the responsible road and/or rail managers. The format of the agreement may be determined by the parties but it must include the matters specified under section 105 of the RSNL, such as responsibilities of parties for implementing measures and a process for monitoring these, and ensuring that new risks are also identified and minimised over time. A template is also available for use.
Rail or road crossings include:
2021 has brought an increase in activity and publicity in relation to safety at level crossings around Australia. While it is sobering to note that some of the renewed attention on the issue (a national safety priority for ONRSR) has been driven by families affected by tragedy at level crossings, all efforts to raise and address this issue are invaluable.
With all accredited rail transport operators (RTOs) subject to ONRSR’s annual regime of audits and inspections, ONRSR has been monitoring rail transport operators’ compliance with the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board Standard AS7531: Lighting and Visibility. The standard reflects the need for RTOs to eliminate safety risks So Far As Is Reasonably Practicable through measures such as lighting on the front of a train and the installation of reflective strips along the side of a train.
ONRSR has also recently commissioned a review of current research and best practice both in Australia and internationally on train visibility - in pursuit of any improvements that can be implemented in this area in a relatively short space of time. This work is now underway, and early indications are that short, medium- and longer-term initiatives will be generated that will make trains more visible to road vehicles, particularly at night and in regional areas. ONRSR expects this research work to be substantially complete in the New Year.
Work is also being done with the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to help address the over-representation of trucks in level crossing accidents. More broadly, ONRSR is engaging with road authorities and governments to reach out to road users with education and safety messaging in recognition of the role they must play in the safe operation of level crossings. On behalf of the National Level Crossing Safety Committee, ONRSR has also recently launched an online National Level Crossing Portal. The portal provides access for Rail Infrastructure Managers, Rolling Stock Operators, associations and level crossing committees, to a range of level crossing data to assist with safety and investment decisions.
In addition to this work, ONRSR maintains a very close watching brief on a range of level crossing safety efforts being made by various governments around the country. Work to lower speed limits on rural roads that feature level crossings is already well underway in New South Wales, with that State Government also investigating tech solutions and the use of big data to identify and address hotspot locations. ONRSR has regular interactions with the Level Crossing Removal Authority in Victoria, and the National Level Crossing Safety Committee’s continued development of a National Level Crossing Safety Strategy is also a body of work ONRSR is a part of.
The efforts of all rail safety stakeholders, including those members of the public working hard to advocate for level crossing safety improvements, is a great reflection of the shared roles and responsibilities we all have to drive change for the better in this space.