AN ANALYSIS of 49 level-crossing collisions found obstructed views or failure to detect oncoming trains contributed to most accidents involving heavy vehicles.

The stated goal of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau study was to improve understanding of the risks associated with level crossing collisions involving heavy vehicles.

ATSB identified several themes in the 49 level-crossing collisions involving heavy vehicles between July 2014 and August 2022.

In at least 12 of the collisions, the heavy-vehicle driver had regularly used the level crossing prior to the collision with the train.

In at least 14 incidents, the driver’s view of the track or level crossing protection equipment was obstructed by vegetation, the design of the heavy vehicle cab, poor crossing lighting or sun glare.

And in at least 14 accidents, it was likely the driver intentionally entered the level crossing in a manner contrary to road rules, with the intention to proceed through the crossing before the train arrived.

The study also found that in most accidents at passively controlled crossings (crossings without flashing lights or boom gates), the heavy-vehicle driver did not detect the train or detected the train too late to avoid a collision.

“Safety at passive crossings relies on motor vehicle drivers looking for and identifying trains,” ATSB chief commissioner Angus Mitchell said.

“The collisions analysed in our study primarily resulted from the presence of trains not being detected, being detected late or being perceived incorrectly,” he said.

“We know that humans are inherently susceptible to unintentional errors. And so long as passively controlled level crossing safety systems rely on road vehicle drivers always detecting the presence of trains, it is certain that this will fail from time to time and result in accidents in the future.”

Mr Mitchell said the use of additional engineering controls to alert road users to the need to stop would almost certainly enhance the level of safety at level crossings.

“Safety improvements would be made by reducing the reliance on road vehicle drivers detecting the presence of trains,” he said.

ATSB said Standards Australia has, because of this study, committed to reviewing the standard AS1742.7 to determine whether additional design guidance for the installation of level crossing protection equipment can be provided to manage risks associated with curved road approaches to level crossings.

The report also compared the severity of level crossing collisions involving heavy road vehicles, to those involving light vehicles.

Mr Mitchell said the analysis confirmed collisions involving heavy road vehicles are more common and more dangerous.

“Level crossing collisions involving heavy vehicles were more likely to lead to injuries to the occupants of rail vehicles, to damage to rail vehicles and track, and to the derailment of rail vehicles,” Mr Mitchell said.

ATSB is currently investigating two heavy vehicle level crossing collisions, one near Katherine in the Northern Territory, where two train drivers were injured; and the second near Cutana, South Australia, where two train drivers were fatally injured.

ATSB released its study ahead of the national rail level crossing safety roundtable in Brisbane on Wednesday 6 March.

“I urge industry and government to review the findings of our safety study, and look forward to working with stakeholders at Wednesday’s roundtable in Brisbane,” Mr Mitchell said.