Victoria has had some horrific rail level crossing incidents in the last 2 years. Rural incidents have resulted in multiple fatalities and derailments, urban incidents are usually single vehicles or rushing pedestrians.
The State Government has instigated a Parliamentary Inquiry into level crossing incidents. Submissions have been received and the final report is expected at the end of 2008. For the next couple of SafetyAtWork blogs I am going to look at some of the submissions from an OHS perspective and in terms of grade separations, the most effective control measure for level crossings.
A Chapter of the Institute of Engineers, the Railway Technical Society of Australasia (RTSA), states that there are three “immutable facts about level crossings”:
- Road and rail traffic will increase “with the increase in our population and industry”
- The traffic will need to travel faster because of “the pressure of time on our lifestyle”, and
- “There will be an increasing number of road and rail crossings required for our increasing population”.
It seems peculiar that the motivation for increased risk at existing level crossings is population growth and lifestyle pressures. The increasing traffic volumes and speed of road and rail transport provide a strong reason for grade separation and it is a long bow to blame an increasing number of level crossings on population growth. If the argument is that new housing developments are required due to population growth and that these developments may be traversed by railway lines then could not developers promote the safe community aspects of their new suburbs by providing bridges and tunnels? Indeed, why would a developer allow pedestrian access to, and road transport near, level crossings given the well-documented tragedies that the overlap can result in?
On that same page the RTSA acknowledges that the Victorian Government has stated that no new level crossings will be built. The Engineers acknowledge that in urban areas “there may be adequate justification for the policy”. Well doesn’t this erase the third bullet point above?
The RTSA calls the absolute policy against level crossings in rural areas “naive and smacks of a typical knee jerk reaction”. They have interpreted the policy as meaning grade separations for rural level crossings as well as urban areas and this may be correct, but it is highly unlikely that such a control measure can be justified on the basis of risk when there are a range of second-tier control measures available. The flaw in the RTSA submission, as with many others, is that it makes assumptions about the cost of grade separation and guesses the political strategy. Yes, grade separations are an expensive option (and the most effective) and over the last 20 years in Victoria the government has established alternative infrastructure revenue sources in Private-Public Partnerships. There are alternate funding models that may make grade separations viable.
It should not be the role of a submission to a parliamentary inquiry to anticipate political challenges but to make recommendations based on the technical resources in the professional area of expertise.
The submissions to the parliamentary inquiry are available for download at http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/rsc/Crossings/submissions.html
A full article on level crossings will be in an upcoming edition of Safety At Work magazine