The families of rail crash victims have slammed national standards development organisation Rail Industry and Safety Standards Board (RISSB), for refusing to support flashing beacon lights and side lights on trains in a new industry safety standard, despite numerous coroners and multiple trials indicating they could prevent crashes and save lives.
Improve Train Lighting and Level Crossing Safety Group spokeswoman, Lara Jensen, who represents the families of rail crash victims, said the board had missed a vital opportunity to support meaningful reform and force the rail industry to put better lighting on their locomotives and wagons.
“Anyone who has driven in the country will have seen road trains coming in the distance with lights around their cabs and along their trailers. Trains on the other hand, hurtle through the country with little more than a headlight and ditch lights and wagons that are completely dark,” Jensen said.
She added that while flashing lights are the accepted indicator of a hazard across multiple industries from aviation to mining and road transport, this is not the case for rail – despite huge locomotives and wagons intersecting thousands of roads, without lights or boom gates, in regional Australia.
After repeated calls for change, Jensen says RISSB, which is dominated by rail industry representatives, last year agreed to re-examine the standard on train lighting. Last week, it put out a call for public consultation on AS 7531, the Australian standards that governs train lighting and visibility.
“The draft of a new Standard AS 7531, which we finally saw today, does include a focus on brighter colours for the front of locomotives but not rotating beacons or flashing lights on locomotives or side lighting on locomotives or wagons,” Jensen said.
The re-drafted version of AS 7531 was released on Friday September 29, 2023, for public comment for a period of four weeks, closing on October 27, 2023.
The Improve Train Lighting and Level Crossing Safety Group, which has members across Australia, said the new standard should include:
- Mandatory flashing beacons on all (including remanufactured) locomotives and powered passenger cars
- Flashing beacons retrofitted onto existing locomotives and powered passenger cars where possible
- Side lights fitted to new locomotives and retrofitted onto existing locomotives as well as to new and existing powered passenger cars and railway wagons
“Coroners, transport safety investigators and countless committees have for decades pointed to a glaring problem with train illumination, yet the rail industry continues to present excuses why they can’t and won’t comply with the same mandatory safety lighting standards that have long been in place in all hazardous and high-risk industries. The massive disparity between mandatory lighting requirements for road transport compared to rail transport is an outstanding example of different standards,” Jensen said.
“Following a horrific triple fatality at Jennacubbine that claimed three of our family members in 2000, State Coroner Alastair Hope found inadequate train lighting was a factor in the crash and recommended all locomotives to be fitted with external lighting in addition to ditch lighting to effectively warn motorists of their approach.
“These recommendations were never actioned by the rail industry or enforced by governments.”
“Following intense lobbying by us, the families and supporters of rail crash victims across the country, two national train lighting reports have been conducted in the past three years to further investigate train illumination
“The Monash Institute of Rail Technology (IRT) report into train lighting was released in March followed on from the Freight Train Visibility Review that was carried out by the Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation and released in 2022.
“Both reports made it clear that lighting on the front and side of trains can be improved by using additional lighting like rotating beacons, outline lighting and brighter livery (colours).
“Furthermore, the overarching finding of the Monash IRT Report was that additional lighting on trains, specifically additional beacon lighting, does improve their visibility and that a beacon lights’ effect is significant when the level crossing angle is obtuse and when the road user is in close range to the level crossing.”
Jensen said the findings of the MIRT report again reinforced the importance of auxiliary lighting on locomotives for improved visibility in line with coronial recommendations made by WA State Coroner Alastair Hope in 2001.
“The re-drafted AS7531is completely skewed towards the commercial interests of the rail industry who have the power to control the standard. The standard is supposed to protect the safety of road users, train drivers and track workers but instead it protects the financial interests of rail companies.”
More than 20 organisations nationally, including peak road transport bodies are supporting the push for better lighting on trains. Among these are the Australian Trucking Association, Western Roads Federation, the Queensland Trucking Association, South Australian Road Transport Association, NT Road Transport Association, Livestock and Rural Transport Association of WA, and Livestock and Rural Transport Association of Victoria.
“We will continue to call for state and federal legislation requiring all rail operators to install mandatory flashing beacons on all locomotives and adequate side lighting on wagons, containers and carriages because unlit rolling stock represents an unacceptable hazard for drivers. Our families urge members of the public and our supporting organisations to have their say on this extremely important safety issue and put in a submission on the re-drafted version of AS 7531 as soon as possible.”