Three companies associated with rail and civil construction contracting firm John Holland are set to be hauled before the Federal Court amid allegations the company breached federal health and safety laws in relation to the death of a rail maintenance worker on the Perth CityLink project.

In a statement released on Thursday, federal health and safety regulator Comcare said it had filed legal proceedings against the three companies in the Federal Court of Australia over an incident in December 2011 in which a 60 year old worker was struck and killed by an out of control rail maintenance vehicle.

Comcare will allege both John Holland Pty Ltd and John Holland Group Ltd failed to take reasonable steps to protect the safety of workers.

The regulator will also allege John Holland Rail Pty Ltd – the company responsible for manufacturing the vehicle – did not take all reasonable steps to ensure the design and construction of the vehicle ensured the safety of workers when properly used.

The maximum penalty for each breach is $242,000.

The worker died on scene at the site of the Wellington Street Tunnel after being hit at around 9:30pm on the night of the incident.

The vehicle had been made by connecting rail wheels to a JCB Fastrac Tractor to enable it to operate on rail tracks as well as conventional roadways. Media reports at the time suggested it may have been incorrectly positioned on the tracks.

Comcare regulatory operations general manager Neil Quarmby said this case highlights the human tragedy associated with workplace fatalities.

“We have a collective need to address the protections afforded to workers to prevent such terrible loss in the future,” he said.

John Holland did not respond to requests for comment.

Part of one of the city’s most important urban renewal developments, the rail component of the Perth CityLink Project was completed six months ahead of schedule, with work finishing in December of last year. The project involved the sinking of the Freemantle Line between William Street and Lake Street set to reconnect the city centre with Northbridge for the first time in more than a century.