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.

Excluding trespass and suicide, accidents at level crossings account for the largest number of railway-related fatalities involving members of the public. Collisions and near misses at level crossings have largely remained unchanged, despite COVID-19 restrictions resulting in reduced (road vehicle & pedestrian) movement at crossings. ONRSR will now focus resources in relation to this priority on the issue of train conspicuity and safety at regional crossings. This follows our commissioning of the Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation’s review of research and best practice in this area, and our ongoing oversight of trials by the freight industry of possible train visibility controls.

ONRSR will be engaged with the Federal Government’s establishment of the Regional Australia Level Crossing Safety Program and support activities under the National Railway Level Crossing Safety Strategy while also monitoring State Government investigations of tech solutions and the use of big data to identify hotspot locations. ONRSR also continues to support the work being done by both governments and industry to remove level crossings and to commit to a policy of no new level crossings.

Train Visibility Update - April 2022

ONRSR’s commissioning of a review of current research and best practice, both in Australia and internationally, on train visibility was completed earlier this year. The review highlighted around 30 possible controls that could be applied to address train conspicuity, particularly in regional areas, and ONRSR is now overseeing the first industry trials of these controls by the Freight On Rail Group.

To ensure the trials provide robust, independent and statistically valid outcomes, ONRSR is engaging Monash University’s Institute of Rail Technology to provide a detailed assessment of the work being done which includes:

  • Higher Efficiency Lighting: Aurizon and Pacific National, in consultation with Southern Shorthaul Railroad, are trialling LED highlights to replace halogen headlights in locomotives that do not currently feature LED headlights. These headlights are brighter and longer lasting. The trial is occurring with a number of locomotives on the east and west coast and the trial is expected to be completed by the end of May.
  • Locomotive Lighting: Aurizon and Pacific National are also trialling new locomotive lighting. As there is minimal room remaining atop the locomotive due to gauge allowance, options being considered are front mounted headboard lights. They are looking at the lighting being integrated with the existing ditch light circuit so that they are activated when the locomotive is approaching a level crossing. These trials are also expected to be completed by the end of May.

While these trials continue, ONRSR’s technical specialists have been reviewing the remaining controls, as recommended by the review, and will use this information to inform the next tranche of industry trials.

Elsewhere ONRSR has welcomed the recent endorsement of the new National Level Crossing Safety Strategy and the Federal Budget announcement of some $180 million for a range of level crossing safety initiatives including crossing upgrades and educational activities.

ONRSR Chief Executive, Sue McCarrey, has also continued to meet regularly with community and safety stakeholders including representatives of families from across Australia who have lost loved ones at level crossing accidents.

Update - November 2021

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.

Interface Agreements

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:

  • identify and assess risks to safety arising from rail or road crossings;
  • determine measures to manage – so far as is reasonably practicable – those risks; and
  • seek to enter into interface agreements with the rail and/or road manager to manage the risks.

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:

  • a level crossing;
  • an area where a road and a tramway meet at substantially the same level, where there is no level crossing sign on the road at all or any of the entrances to the area;
  • an area where a footpath or shared path crosses a tramway at substantially the same level, where there is no level crossing sign on the path at all or any of the entrances to the area;
  • a bridge carrying a road over a railway;
  • a bridge carrying a railway over a road; or
  • a lane of a road on which rolling stock moves alongside road vehicles on the road.
Last updated: Apr 28, 2022, 8:54:38 AM