Recent collisions between trains and pedestrians at Bentleigh station have highlighted a growing issue with the safety of Victoria’s level crossings and have led to renewed calls for their removal. Alternatives – including bridges and tunnels – are expensive. So level crossings look like they’re here to stay. But should more be done to make them safe?
By JASON WALLS
COLLISIONS and near misses between trains and pedestrians at level crossings continue to rise in Victoria, prompting renewed calls for their removal.
Two people have been struck by trains near Bentleigh station so far this year, following the death of a 70-year-old woman in the same vicinity in 2011. The incidents have highlighted a worrying long term trend in collisions between trains and pedestrians at level crossings throughout the state, with a recent Transport Safety Victoria (TSV) report* finding the five year moving average has increased from 3.6 in 2008 to 5.8 in 2012.
In addition, the number of near misses at level crossings in Victoria has also increased since 2008, with the five year moving average rising from 69.4 to 110.6 in 2012.
The level crossing at Bentleigh station was upgraded to “active” protection status (boom gates and flashing lights) following the death of 15-year-old Alana Nobbs in 2004. But despite the upgrade, and others like it across Victoria, data shows the overwhelming majority of pedestrian collisions and near misses occur at active crossings. Nineteen of the 24 collisions between trains and pedestrians since 2008 were at active crossings (as opposed to “passive” (signage only) and unprotected crossings), while 92.5% of the 553 near misses in that period also involved active crossings.
The high percentages can partially be explained by the fact that all level crossings in metropolitan Melbourne are now actively controlled with boom gates and/or lights and warning bells, but the fact remains that such incidences are on the increase, despite the warnings.
Public Transport Victoria spokesperson, Helen Witton, said that the government was working to improve the safety of all level crossings across Victoria, including through grade separation.
PhD candidate at the Monash Injury Research Institute, Gemma Read agreed that removing crossings through the use of bridges or tunnels was the “best method to reduce accidents as this physically separates the pedestrian and the train,” but acknowledged that engineering and construction costs associated with such projects were very high.
“Another approach is to investigate whether lower-cost countermeasures or solutions can be found that are also effective in reducing accidents,” she said. One of Ms Read’s research goals is to identify such solutions.
Ms Witton also pointed to grade separation projects undertaken in Nunawading and Altona in 2010/11 as well as funds allocated in this year’s budget for further level crossing removals in Springvale and Mitcham.
However Melbourne still retains 178 level crossings compared with Sydney’s 3.
*Data excludes suicides and attempted suicides.