Truck, rail war of words over level crossings

By: Jason Whittaker

The trucking lobby and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) are squabbling over level crossings following the release of a

The trucking lobby and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) are squabbling over level crossings following the release of a report into another truck-train collision.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s (ATSB) last month released a report into an accident involving the Ghan and a loaded sewage truck at a crossing near Two Wells, South Australia.

It found the crossing did not have lights or boom gates and the truck driver could not see the oncoming train because the ARTC had neglected to remove overgrown vegetation.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) fired the first salvo, with Chairman Trevor Martyn claiming truck drivers are risking their lives at the crossing.

"The report makes it clear that truck drivers were gambling with their lives whenever they used the Two Wells level crossing," he says.

Martyn called for an immediate review of the incident, saying it was time the rail industry took responsibility for level crossings rather than trying to shift blame onto truck drivers.

The ATSB’s report says vegetation was identified as a danger but nothing was done about it.

"The maintenance practices for the clearing of vegetation at the Murrow Farm level crossing were inadequate to maintain effective sighting of trains," the report says.

"Programmed works that had identified the vegetation as a sighting hazard which was to be rectified within 28 days had not been carried out in accordance with the relevant maintenance specification."

Instead of addressing the situation, the report says the ARTC decided to delay maintenance work for180 days without any reassessment of the hazard.

However, Acting ARTC Chief Executive Wayne James accused the ATA of reacting "in a knee jerk fashion without understanding the incident".

According to the James, Martyn’s comments are inaccurate because the ATSB’s report also shows the truck driver did not stop at the crossing.

"At passive level crossings the first and most simple traffic control measure is the requirement to stop," James says.

"The ATA’s over-the-top rhetoric regarding ‘truck drivers gambling with the lives when using the Two Wells crossing’ has also been proven to be as ridiculous as it was unwarranted."

Rather than commenting to ATSB reports, James told the ATA to spend time educating drivers on the importance of stopping at level crossing.

James claims train drivers using ARTC lines saying truck drivers constantly ignore stop signs.

Although the Two Wells crossing had a stop sign, the ATSB investigation found even if the driver had stopped the vegetation beside the road would have still restricted him from seeing the oncoming train.

In order to avert future collisions, the ATSB recommends more stringent maintenance procedures at all rail crossings.

The report calls for stop signs to be installed closer to the nearest rail, saying it will help drivers gain a clearer view of approaching trains. Currently, signs are placed at least 3.5 metres from the rail line.

The incident involving the sewage truck happened about 11:35am. The report says the truck driver stopped and changed gear before driving over the railway line, where it collided with the Ghan which was travelling at 93km/h.

"The truck driver was seriously injured and the truck was destroyed. The train driver was not injured but two passengers on the train reported minor injuries," the report says.

Furthermore, two passengers sustained minor injuries.

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