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THERE can be no greater example of the need to provide flashing lights and boom gates on country level crossings than the collision between a truck and the Southern Cross to Warrnambool train near Colac.
The Herald Sun has found there were two near hits at the crossing at Pirron Yallock before the truck and train collision on Wednesday.
Train drivers reported incidents in 2011 and 2012.
The father of a man killed when his car was hit by a train at another level crossing near Warrnambool sued V/Line and the local council for failing to install boom gates, flashing lights and warning bells
The crossing at Pirron Yallock is to have boom gates and flashing lights installed by the end of the year.
That is too late. The line will be open in the next few days when wreckage is removed and some immediate signage is required at the very least.
The collision could have wreaked the same human carnage as a similar collision at Kerang when 11 people were killed when a truck crashed into a V/Line passenger train at a level crossing. Four children were among those killed. Twenty-three people were injured.
A coroner found there was no one to blame for the tragedy, including the driver of the truck, who was acquitted of charges of culpable driving and negligently causing serious injury although there were flashing lights at the crossing.
What the coroner did find was that there was an urgent need to improve the warning system, if they existed at all, at the state’s hundreds of level crossings.
The time taken for this to happen has left Victorians waiting for boom gates and flashing lights like passengers looking in vain for a train to arrive. The Kerang train wreck was in 2007. It was another four years before the coroner made recommendations to improve safety at the killer crossing. The Victorian Government, which is responsible for V/Line, is removing 50 of the state’s worst level crossings and installing boom gates and flashing lights at country crossings.
The Andrews’ Government is not responsible for the failure of past governments of both political persuasions to make level crossings safer for Victorians and can only be commended for making this an election priority.
The Government is moving quickly on building underpasses and overpasses to make rail lines in the greater Melbourne area safer.
However, the collision near Colac could easily have been a disaster with an unacceptable loss of life. The 99 passengers on the train who escaped injury can count themselves lucky.
The collision could have resulted in a similar loss of life to the derailment at Kerang.
Safety requirements may need review. The Kerang crash underlined the need for changes to be made to emergency service responses. One of the main areas of concern was doctors arriving at the scene being held back because they were not wearing emergency vests.
Another request was for trains to carry equipment capable of being used to remove seats and wreckage that might have trapped passengers in urgent need of medical attention.
Tough new road rules were introduced after the Kerang disaster with flashing warning lights and rumble strips at some level crossing, however, up to 1300 level crossings were left with only “passive” protection such as a give-way or stop sign.
Victorian drivers who race to beat trains at level crossings face automatic suspension of their licence for three months and a $3300 fine under a new offence of speeding to beat a train.
But whatever is done to improve train safety must be done quickly and must include country as well as metropolitan lines and services.
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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