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Transport & Logistics

Road vs rail – Comparing the state of public safety awareness

13 Jan 2014, by Informa Insights

There are about 13 million cars in Australia today and driving is deeply engraved in our psyche. Highway traffic reports point to the fact that a large part of the nation spends holidays driving from one part of the country to another and unfortunately, road fatality figures have become a nightly news feature every holiday season.

We sit back, watch the footage and even expect it to be followed by politicians vowing to ‘get tough’ on the perceived causes of these fatalities.

Australia's comparative road toll for  2013 - Image courtesy of ABC News
Australia’s comparative road toll for 2013 – Image courtesy of ABC News

Last year saw an 8% decrease in the national road toll and while some states experienced record low figures, this still meant that our roads claimed 1,193 lives.

Victoria was one of the states with a record low road toll and speaking about the need to remain vigilant on road safety, Victoria’s Acting Premier Peter Ryan said, The key thing is that these deaths are avoidable. There are no accidents on our roads… Drivers make poor choices. They choose to speed, they choose to drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs. They choose to be distracted from the particular task at hand.”

Reflecting on the reduction in the national road toll, Lauchlan McIntosh, President of the Australasian College of Road Safety pointed to improvements technology and policy.

“There’s been improvements in technology making roads safer, cars safer and better and smarter law enforcement and driver training for new drivers, which makes a difference in the death rate” Mr McIntosh said.

Whether it’s driver behaviour, technology or policy it’s encouraging to see a shift towards focusing on the fact that accidents and incidents are avoidable.

The national road toll for this summer stands at 27 and while Australians are very familiar with the heightened focus the media, government and motoring groups place on road safety in the lead up to holiday breaks, how complacent are we when it comes to safety on our railways?

Just after Christmas, a woman in Brisbane was killed by an express train after walking around boom gates and on to the track and in the first week of January, a man died in Victoria after allegedly crossing railway tracks in Aspendale. Unfortunately, these are not isolated events.

Although rail is the safest form of land transport, these fatalities remind us of the need to increase awareness around railway tracks.

Australia’s rail network is the sixth largest in the world, with 44,000km of track and 23,500 level crossings across the network. The holiday periods are also a time when a number of rail operators conduct a range of maintenance and repair work, so let’s not forget that fatalities, whether on our roads and railways are avoidable.

The ATSB’s 2012 report on rail safety found that there was a total of 350 rail fatalities in Australia from July 2002 to 30 June 2012. Although this represents less than 2% of the corresponding figure for road fatalities, it shouldn’t detract from the fact that these accidents are avoidable.

Of course, it’s not just fatalities. The number of serious injuries and near misses is three times this figure.

According to TrackSAFE, about 35 people tragically lose their lives each year from failure to obey the warning trackSAFE Foundationsigns and signals at level crossings, taking shortcuts on railway lines, or from being distracted- listening to music or on the phone and not being aware of what is happening around them.

Chris Cairns, trackSAFE Ambassador
Chris Cairns, trackSAFE Ambassador

Safety is the rail industry’s highest priority and in 2012, TrackSAFE was established with the endeavour to reduce near collisions, injuries and fatalities on the rail network resulting from suicide and reckless behaviour, in doing so creating a better workplace for rail employees.

Be on the Safe Side, the national education initiative for primary school students to learn about train and track safety was launched at National Children’s Week last October and other initiatives to increase rail safety awareness range from interactive websites to the award winning ‘Dumb ways to die’ campaign released by MTM.

P14M04 - Rail Safety BannerTo find out more,Dr Todd Bently, MTM’s General Manager – Safety, Environment, and Risk, will discuss the rationale, responses to and evolution of the ‘Dumb ways to die’ campaign at this year’s Rail Safety conference in Sydney.

Also joining him will be Bob Herbert, Chairman, TrackSAFE and a number of safety experts from across the country and abroad.

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