A new video highlights the risks and hazards faced by rail construction workers and maintenance workers.

As part of Rail Safety Week, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) released the piece, which features an animated version of a fatal accident which happened where a passenger train collided with an excavator in Newbridge.

It describes how even as an intercity train was travelling through the countryside, workers down the line commenced track work unaware that site protection measures such as detonators and flags were not in place. Meanwhile, a breakdown in communication between the site protection officer and the train controller with regard to work site location meant both had thought the train had passed the site.

Though the driver slammed on the breaks the moment the excavator came into view after the train passed through a cutting, it was too late and the train ploughed into the machine, killing the operator on impact.

“In this case, there was a breakdown in communication, initially between the train controller and the site protection officer,” ATSB investigator Peter Foley says. “But the workers also accessed the track before the last lines of defence had been put in place with tragic results.”

He adds that communication and verification of crucial safety information between all parties saves lives.

“When you go out to work on track you expect to come home safety at the end of the day,” he says. “Unfortunately this isn’t always the case.”

Rail construction safety is an ongoing challenge in Australia. According to recent data from Safe Work Australia, ‘non-building’ construction workers  (those who work on road, rail, bridge, dam and other infrastructure projects) accounted for less than 10 per cent of the overall construction industry workforce in 2010/011 but made up 15 per cent of serious injury claims.

In December 2011, for example, a contractor was killed near the entrance to the William Street tunnel in Perth after being struck after the brakes failed on a rail maintenance vehicle.

More recently a light rail worker in Surfer’s Paradise was left in a critical condition in May after being hit by a van as he stepped into traffic after finishing his shift on a Saturday afternoon.

ATSB chief commissioner Martin Dolan says more can be done to improve practices.

“The ATSB has investigated several accidents that have occurred when maintenance work was being carried out around railway tracks,” he says. “These accidents were primarily the result of safe working rules and procedures not being correctly implemented.”

“We think more can be done to improve the safety of rail workers, particularly in the areas of good work practices, coordination and communication.”