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.
In October 2021, the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) commissioned the Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation (ACRI) to conduct a review of current research and best practice both in Australia and internationally on train visibility. The report identified approximately 30 potential controls for improving train visibility at level crossings, with the majority focussed on better illumination of trains.
In March 2022, ONRSR met with the Freight on Rail Group (FORG) to discuss opportunities to trial some suggested controls identified in the ACRI report.
Following on from this meeting, ONRSR engaged Monash Institute of Rail Technology (MIRT) to design a scientific testing regime to validate two suggested recommendations from the ACRI report under supervised trial conditions. These two being:
ONRSR has now received the Assessment of Trials to Improve Train Conspicuousness Approaching Passive Level Crossings – Final Report from MIRT. The report is a very detailed, technical document – reflecting the thoroughness and scientific rigour of the academic research. Click below to download and read the report in full.
ONRSR continues to oversight industry trials of possible train visibility improvements that are being held on the eastern seaboard and in regional Western Australia. Monash University’s Institute of Railway Technology (MIRT) has finalised its three-stage methodology and is nearing completion of a series of tests of the equipment its assessors will use in the field. Both the approach and the hardware that underpin this independent evaluation represent world first research into train conspicuity. Never has this kind of work been done to this level of detail.
MIRT will be using purpose calibrated digital cameras, luminous meters, a radar speed sensor and drones to aid in the evaluation which will test the effectiveness of the train lighting improvements in a range of regional operational environments.
In doing so it will consider a series of design variables including:
Ultimately this work will help with assessments of the effectiveness of the new lighting solutions in relation to Australian Standard 7531 and help with an understanding of how effective they are in relation to environmental variables.
The outcomes of this work will ultimately feed into, and be picked up by, a range of initiatives that are already underway. The National Level Crossing Safety Committee has been progressing development of the National Level Crossing Safety Strategy – endorsed earlier this year, while various State Governments have committed to trials of new low-cost technology at regional level crossings, a number of which are now underway. The March Federal Budget also committed some $180 million for a range of level crossing safety initiatives including crossing upgrades, research and educational activities.
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:
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 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.
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.
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: