Preliminary report released into Barrier Highway level crossing accident

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released an update on its ongoing investigation into the fatal collision between a truck and train at a level crossing near Broken Hill on New Year’s Eve.

Train drivers Mick Warren and Kevin Baker were killed when a truck and a 1.7km-long Pacific National freight train collided at a level crossing on the Barrier Highway near South Australia’s border with New South Wales on December 31, 2023.

The truck driver Kevin Maxwell Pearson, from Queensland, was later charged with two counts of causing death by dangerous driving.

A preliminary report notes the truck, configured as an A-double road-train, departed Yunta, South Australia, to travel along the Barrier Highway in the direction of Broken Hill, New South Wales, shortly after 9am on December 31, 2023.

A short time later, following a crew change, a Pacific National freight train left Broken Hill, travelling in the direction of Yunta.

At approximately 10.15am the truck, travelling at about 90km/h, entered the Barrier Highway level crossing near Cutana, South Australia, into the path of the train. The crossing did not have boom gates, but had active warning systems (lights and bells), which had activated. 

The train, travelling at about 84km/h, collided with the trailers of the truck, resulting in the derailment of both locomotives and six multi-platform freight wagons.

Both train drivers were fatally injured. No injuries were reported for the truck driver. A large amount of rollingstock and rail and level crossing infrastructure was destroyed or substantially damaged.

“Today’s preliminary report includes evidence gathered so far on the sequence of events, the geometry of the level crossing itself, and the protections in place along the approach path taken by the truck prior to the collision,” said Kerri Hughes, ATSB’s director transport safety.

“As our investigation progresses, it will include further examination of the road-rail interface infrastructure, and analysis of recorded data from the locomotive, the truck and network control.”

The investigation will also consider similar occurrences, the operation of the truck and train, and safety interface agreements.

The preliminary report notes, while the collision occurred at around 10.15am, the rail infrastructure manager’s network control officer was not aware a derailment or collision had occurred until emergency services received reports at around 10.30am.

“Our ongoing investigation will review train emergency alerting and location systems, and will include an analysis of locomotive survivability aspects,” Hughes added.

A final report will be released at the conclusion of the investigation.

“Should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate and timely safety action can be taken,” Hughes concluded.

Pearson is on bail and will appear in the Port Augusta Magistrates Court in November.

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