Campaign over B-double tragedy reaches NSW Parliament

A grass-roots campaign for safer New South Wales level-crossings has made headway, gaining state parliament recognition and a pledge from regional transport and roads minister Paul Toole.

Campaign over B-double tragedy reaches NSW Parliament
Steph Cooke, Maddie Bott and Paul Toole

The campaign was led by Maddie Bott, a nurse whose fiancée, Ethan Hunter, and his co-driver, Mark Fenton, were killed in their B-double at a private crossing near Quandialla, near Bribbaree, in February.

Bott believes and 21,011 co-petitioners agree that present signposting and warnings are inadequate and fixing that will save lives.

Her efforts were roundly praised.

The incident spurred the state’s Country Women’s Association (CWA) to also tackle the issue.

Toole responded to the petition that had been presented to the Legislative Assembly.

"Maddie Bott has been fighting to improve safety at level crossings since her partner Ethan Hunter and his colleague Mark Fenton were killed at a level crossing in February," Toole, who is also deputy premier, said in a social media post.

"Steph Cooke MP and I have been working closely with Maddie since May, and today Maddie watched on as a petition with more than 21,000 signatures was debated in parliament.

"We will continue to work with all levels of government and stakeholders to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make level crossings as safe as possible."

In Parliament, Toole stated that his department had formed a working groupincluding representative from the Centre for Road Safety and freight experts to examine best practice globally and the University of Technology Sydney was engaged "to deliver a research project using multiple data sources like incident reports and real-time train data to conduct big data integration to identify hotspots.

"From that, they will initiate a project exploring private level crossing technologies that currently are in use nationally and internationally to improve safety at private level crossings.

"The project included discussions with suppliers to understand technology, how it could be adapted to a level crossing context and what outcomes they think could be achieved with technology in this space."

Toole revealed that, last month, Transport for NSW hosted a roundtable with 20 stakeholders from Australia, New Zealand and Canada on ways to boost level crossing safety.

"The workshop provided us with an insight into potential technology to improve safety to these crossings," Toole said.

"In parallel, Transport has sought new solutions from industry. We are planning a trial of emerging technologies in the new year in regional New South Wales."

Read how the NSW CWA took up the issue, here

The government is also planning to trial technologies that will assist with driver distraction and drivers who use level crossings regularly to help them to develop expectations about the likelihood of encountering a train.

Cooke noted that there are more than 2,700 road level crossings on operational lines on the New South Wales railway network—1,360 on public roads and the remainder on private properties such as farms.

Of those 1,360 level crossings, 434 have active traffic controls like boom gates and flashing lights; and the other 926 have passive traffic controls like stop or give-way signs.

"Between 2008 and 2021 there were 84 collisions between trains and cars at level crossings in New South Wales, resulting in 10 fatalities and 15 serious injuries," Cooke said.

"More than 30 per cent of accidents occurred at locations where the speed limit was 100 kilometres per hour or more.

"The New South Wales Government, under the leadership of the deputy premier, has committed to actioning a suite of options in the short term which will have long-term impacts to make level crossings safer across the state.

"Over the past eight months, speed limits have been reduced to no more than 80 kilometres per hour at 28 level crossings in a number of regional locations, including Orange, Albury, Port Macquarie, Narromine, Cootamundra and Dubbo. In the coming months, another 82 level crossings will have their speed limits reduced. This will increase safety by allowing drivers more time to react and stop, mitigating the likelihood of crashes.

"This is particularly important for heavy vehicles, which need more time to stop due to their size and weight, and will work in combination with other safety measures, such as the scores of electronic signs rolling out on key freight routes and high-risk level crossings across the state.

"Just two weeks ago, I was with Maddie to announce a new initiative whereby farmers are eligible for special red and yellow coloured farm gate signs to help increase awareness of level crossings on farm properties. In the technology space, Transport for NSW is gearing up to trial a low-cost level crossing system, which will increase safety at a number of level crossings across New South Wales.

"Pleasingly, as requested by this petition, the New South Wales Government acknowledges the obvious safety benefits of active traffic controls, especially boom gates and flashing lights at level crossings.

"To this end, we have commissioned more major upgrades across New South Wales. In closing, it is incumbent on all of us to work together across layers of government, with rail managers and operators, across industry and with the community to try to ensure that no other family goes through the pain of losing a loved one under such tragic circumstances.

"We are making a difference and, with hard work, we can achieve even greater change."

The petition has broad support in Parliament.

Shadow minister for regional transport and roads Jenny Aitchison critiqued the speed of improvements and also called for better lighting of trains.

"Heavy vehicles are lit up on our roads yet trains are not. Flatbed carriages are left on trains without freight containers," Aitchison said.

"Dust can rise as a vehicle stops on a dirt track. Sun and other light conditions, as well as overgrown trees, grass and other vegetation can obscure vision.

"Finally, active crossings in some places have limited signage or warning systems and, in some cases, those warnings are less than those at crossings that are not in use anymore.

"We know that those risks must be managed much better than they are."

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP Roy Butler also touched on trucking in reiterating his call for action at Nyngan, which has three crossings, with two a few hundred metres apart.

"The Moonagee Street crossing is located on the main town by-pass used not only by all heavy vehicles, but also by a high proportion of other through traffic," Butler said.

"The crossing is close to the Bogan River and there is no clear approaching visibility of an oncoming train.

"Trains whip through Nyngan at 80 kilometres per hour and the lack of adequate safety measures at each crossing has the community concerned."


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