Rail Level Crossings remain a high-risk interface between rail and other modes of surface transport.

In Australia, there were 578 level crossing accidents involving collisions between road vehicles and trains between 2001 and 2008 (ATSB, 2008). These collisions typically involve serious injury, frequently cause fatalities, and come at a significant personal, organisational, and governmental cost.

Over the last financial year, there were 351 reported near misses on the Queensland Rail network, including 199 incidents in South East Queensland and 152 incidents in regional Queensland. This compares to 481 near misses the previous year.

Innovative level crossing technology has now been switched on at two North Queensland locations as part of the Government’s efforts to improve road safety.

Transport and Main Roads Minister Scott Emerson said new radio break-in technology, which alerts motorists if there is a train approaching the crossing, would be trialled over the next six months .

The technology, developed by LaTrobe University, detects the presence of motor vehicles in relation to trains via wireless sensors and can broadcast a warning announcement through the vehicle’s radio, as well as display a visual warning through a unit fitted above the dashboard.

“The trial will help determine its effectiveness and whether it can be rolled out to additional railway crossings in Queensland,” said Emerson.

The technology is one of three being trialled as part of a $2 million investment to improve safety at railway crossings.

Railnet Safety Systems has created a solar-powered railway crossing warning system that provides a warning to motorists of approaching trains by activating flashing lights.

NFA Innovations’ alternative Radio Break-In technology provides an auditory warning to the driver when a train is approaching a crossing. It operates by a transmitter sending a signal that is detected by the existing in-vehicle car radio and speaker system, which overrides normal transmission and even works when radios are switched off.

This technological solution has been formulated in conjunction with key stakeholders to overcome problems associated with negotiating level crossings. Considerable Human Factors work has been undertaken by the University of South Australia and Central Queensland University to use scientific means to prove the methodology.

The technology features an integrated, multi-layer fail-to-safe system capable of protecting level crossings in a cost effective manner.

“Level crossing crashes are nearly always a result of road user behaviour. Some of these collisions have occurred in situations where a single error by one road user (not detecting the signal at the crossing) was sufficient to result in the collision,” said NFA Innovations executive director Pat Latter. “Although all road users should take responsibility for safe behaviour, people will always make mistakes.  This strategy represents a step towards an ambition to create a road transport system in which those mistakes do not result in death or serious injury.”

LaTrobe University has already been trialling its ‘intelligent transport system’ in Melbourne. These trials, according to Professor Jugdutt (Jack) Singh, director of La Trobe University’s Centre for Technology Infusion, have surpassed expectations.

Singh’s centre developed the system in partnership with Public Transport Victoria and the Australian Automotive Co-operative Research Centre.

With some 9,500 level crossings on Australian public roads – about 2,000 in Victoria – only a third of which have flashing lights or boom barriers, engineering solutions that can alert drivers to approaching trains are of considerable benefit.

“With more than 600 rail and vehicle crashes at level crossings in Australia during the last decade, the technology could prevent and hopefully eliminate collisions, saving many lives,” said La Trobe University deputy vice-chancellor of research Professor Tim Brown.