The rail industry has set the ambitious objective of zero harm at railway level crossings by 2025 and as a consequence, Rail Safety 2013 started with a comprehensive half-day workshop on level crossing safety.
The industry is certainly quite passionate about level crossing safety management and the workshop brought together national and international experts, operators and regulators to explore how technology and research can bring us closer to reaching this objective. We would like to thank all our speakers,supporters and attendees of the RLX workshop for contributing to mature, considered and encouraging discussions!
Railways have a long history and Jesse Baker, Manager, Safety & Systems, RISSB took us back to 600 BC and the first level crossing – the Diolkos on the Isthmus of Corinth – to explore the evolution of RLX technology. It’s interesting to consider current ITS developments when you reflect that the first real advancements in RLX safety came sometime in the 1800s when flagmen were introduced!
Fast forwarding to 2013, Jesse highlighted the current state of the RLX safety in Australia. According to the RISSB National Stocktake, there are more than 23,500 operational railway level crossings in Australia. Although rail is the safest form of land transport, risks are present at every level crossing with the best information indicating an average of 100 incidents causing 37 deaths at crossings every year. In addition to fatalities, railway level crossing incidents have the potential to cause multi-million dollars of damages making RLX safety one of the rail industry’s highest safety priorities.
It was fitting to then have a review of industry collaboration in RLX safety research with project updates from the Rail CRC. The RailCRC is working together with a number of industry participants and Australia’s leading universities in researching level crossing safety.
Prof Andry Rakotonirainy, Principal Research Fellow, Queensland University of Technology provided an overview of the ITS for safer level crossings project. This project integrated driver and traffic simulation to assess in-vehicle and road-based level crossing safety interventions.
From Andry’s spotlight on human behaviour, we moved to a project that looked at affordable level crossings protection systems. Prof Colin Cole, Director, Centre for Railway Engineering, CQUniversity reminded us that the estimated annual cost of RLX incidents is over $116million (Source: 2007 Office of the Chief Investigator, Rail Safety Investigation Report № 2007 / 09 – Level Crossing Collision V/Line Passenger Train 8042 and a Truck Near Kerang, Victoria). Colin highlighted that the majority of RLXs are in regional and remote areas of Australia and given the unique installation and maintenance challenges presented in these environments, it’s important to remember that the “level of safety integrity needs to be at least commensurate to required risk reduction”.
A level crossing is the junction between rail and road and Terry Spicer, Managing Director, RLX Safety International provided an encouraging and exciting look at how the railway industry can benefit from the new technology being developed in the automotive industry. From Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) – Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) – and motor vehicle anti-collision applications, innovation in vehicle and road technology “has the potential to reshape the way we interact with vehicles, infrastructure and mobility devices and indeed the future design of our cities, roads, and transport systems, including both road and pedestrian users of level crossings.”
And before we got carried away on the prospect of technology providing RLX nirvana, Aidan Nelson, Director, Community Safety Partnerships Ltd, UK reminded us that the “safest level crossing is always one that doesn’t exist” and in isolation, technological solutions will fail. Aidan challenged us to look at the issues from a new perspective that included changing road user behaviour and institutional attitudes and introduced the group to his concept of the five E’s (enabling, engineering, education, enforcement and evaluation) that he went on to expand on during his later talk at the proceeding conference.
Aidan prompted us with the question: ‘Why re-invent the wheel?’ and following on from these presentations, the workshop continued with a group discussion that addressed this and highlighted not only what we can learn from local and international rail research but also what we can learn from other safety critical industries.
The discussion sessions reinforced the industry’s willingness to work together to achieve the goal of zero harm at railway level crossings by 2025.
We look forward to your involvement in future events.
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