The Federal Government has released the National Level Crossing Safety Strategy 2023-2032, as part of its commitment to reducing fatalities and injuries at the more than 20,000 level crossings that intersect roads and paths across Australia. 

Level crossings remain the highest public safety risk on the rail network. Two rail workers lost their lives in December 2023 following a fatal level crossing accident.

The strategy has been developed by the National Level Crossing Safety Committee, comprising representatives from federal, state and local governments, rail industry associations and regulators.

The strategy sets out a clear vision for working towards zero harm on the level crossing network, including:

  • Improving public education and enforcement
  • Leveraging emerging technology and innovation
  • Identifying early, low-cost and effective safety improvements
  • Developing improved data and knowledge
  • Increasing coordination and knowledge sharing by those responsible for safety

To identify any further action that could be taken by governments, regulators, and industry, a rail level crossing safety roundtable, will be held in Brisbane on 6 March 2024.

Rail workers including train drivers will be represented through their unions.

The Federal Government is already providing $180 million for the Regional Australia Level Crossing Safety Program, including $160 million over four years from 2023-24 to 2026-27 to support lower-cost, high-priority railway crossing upgrades.

These upgrades include installing flashing lights, audible warning devices, boom barriers, enhanced signage, and pedestrian maze upgrades to increase the visibility of crossings on both sides of the roadway in response to approaching trains.

Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King, said that every year, Australians are being killed or injured on the level crossing network, resulting in untold mental, physical and emotional trauma for all involved, as well as millions of dollars in damages.

“The Federal Government is committed to working towards zero harm at our rail crossings,” Ms King said. 

“The community and stakeholders have long advocated for improved investment, better safety measures, education, enforcement, and harnessing technology – and this strategy sets out a clear path to achieving those aims.

“I would like to thank the National Level Crossing Safety Committee for their collaborative, national approach, acknowledging that delivering a safer network for Australians is a shared responsibility.

“I am confident the vision set out in this ten-year strategy and the practical actions it will facilitate will help save lives across the next decade, and into the future.”

Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads, Bart Mellish, said that the release of the strategy marks a significant milestone in the government’s ongoing commitment to road safety, with this strategy enhancing safety at level crossings across the nation.

“Queensland’s Director-General of Transport and Main Roads, Sally Stannard, will chair the National Level Crossing Safety Committee and I am pleased to present the three-year National Level Crossing Work Plan,” Mr Mellish said. 

“The Work Plan details initiatives, actions, and timeframes which demonstrate what can be achieved when all levels of government work together to prioritise initiatives that save lives.

“The Queensland Government is committed to the shared responsibilities of road and rail safety, and through collaborative efforts with the Federal Government, Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads and the National Level Crossing Safety Committee are setting new standards and driving real change for level crossing safety.

“We are all working tirelessly to ensure the safety of all road users at level crossings to move towards achieving the overarching goal of Vision Zero-Zero Harm at Australia’s level crossings.”

Industry response

Chair of TrackSAFE Foundation and the ARA, Danny Broad, said that the National Level Crossing Safety Strategy 2023–2032 provides a blueprint for national actions needed to improve safety at railway crossings.

“While there is already much work underway by both industry and government towards achieving improved safety at crossings, there is still room for improvement,” Mr Broad said.

“Any death or injury on the rail network is devastating – not just for the family and friends impacted but also for rail workers involved in the incident and the first responders called upon in the rescue effort.

“This roundtable is an important opportunity to examine what further measures can be implemented to prevent deaths and injuries on the network.”

Mr Broad said that the key factor to improving safety at railway crossings is to make it a shared responsibility.

“The rail industry is committed to working with governments, the heavy vehicle industry, other road users, pedestrians and community groups to achieve better outcomes.

“We also urge an ongoing commitment of funding by governments to remove higher risk railway crossings, as well as ensuring they do not increase the number of crossings in their state.

“On top of the devastating impact to rail workers and the community, there are also great economic consequences from disruption to the rail network, with hundreds of millions of dollars lost each year due to safety incidents.”

The rail industry is working with the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator on the development of Australia’s first Code of Practice for train visibility and a draft is due to be submitted to Federal and State Infrastructure and Transport Ministers for consideration and approval by mid-2024.

Mr Broad said that the rail industry also supports recent calls for harsher penalties for ignoring warning signals and unlawfully entering the rail corridor, including allowing for the use of mobile cameras at crossings.

“While technology, environmental and infrastructure changes can improve rail crossing safety, car and truck drivers, as well as pedestrians, must always follow the road rules at railway crossings, including looking both ways for oncoming trains. It can take up to 2km for a fully loaded freight train to stop.

“The importance of railway crossing safety cannot be overstated. Everyone deserves to arrive home safely. We welcome the opportunity to participate in the upcoming roundtable, but a shared approach needs to be the starting point.”

To read the strategy and for more information, visit https://www.tmr.qld.gov.au/safety/rail-safety/national-level-crossing-safety-strategy.

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