6 July 2021

Railway level crossing speeds reduced as safety e-petition closes

| Edwina Mason
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Steph Cooke, Maddie Bott, Wal Bradford, baby Clara and David Grant at Nubba Road South

Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke (left) with railway level crossing campaigner Maddie Bott and Nubba locals Wal Bradford, his granddaughter, Clara, and David Grant at Nubba Road South, near Wallendbeen. Photo: Supplied.

A Young woman’s campaign for stronger safety measures at level railway crossings has been reinforced through the reduction of speed limits for vehicular traffic using active crossings throughout southwest NSW.

NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said previous speed limits of up to 110km/h will be reduced to a maximum of 80km/h to improve safety at active level crossings, allowing drivers more time to react and stop safely.

First to see the change will be the villages of Wallendbeen, Bethungra, Illabo and Stockinbingal, all within the Cootamundra electorate of NSW MP Steph Cooke who has backed local nurse Maddie Bott in her campaign for improved safety measures.

Shrine to Ethan Hunter

Maddie Bott has been a vocal campaigner for improved safety measures at passive level railway crossings since her fiance, Ethan Hunter, was killed in February 2021. Photo: Maddie Bott.

A petition started by Maddie, calling for flashing lights at every level crossing in NSW, closed on Monday, 5 July, having received more than 21,000 signatures, enough to trigger debate in NSW Parliament.

In February 2021, Maddie’s partner, Ethan Hunter, 27, died instantly alongside his 50-year-old colleague, Mark Fenton, when their B-double truck collided with a freight train on a farming property near Bribbaree, 50km west of Young.

Mr Hunter and Mr Fenton were carting gypsum from one side of a farm to the other when the accident occurred on the private passive rail crossing, part of the 576km Stockinbingal to Parkes rail line – a major cross-country link between the Main South and Main Western Lines.

Of the 3800 level crossings in NSW, 1400 are on public roads, with the remaining 2400 on private roads.

All either have ‘passive protection, in the form of various types of warning signs, or ‘active’ protection, using automatic warning devices such as flashing lights, warning sounds, and barriers or gates.

Minister Toole said 154 crashes between trains and vehicles at level crossings in NSW had resulted in 14 fatalities and 24 serious injuries in the 19 years from 2001 to 2020.

“More than 30 per cent of these crashes occurred at locations where the speed limit was 100km/h or greater, which is why we’ve reduced speed limits at 13 level crossings across the region by at least 20km/h,” he said.

According to Transport for NSW deputy secretary safety, environment and regulation, Tara McCarthy, the Speed Reduction at Active Level Crossings Program applied to all level crossings across NSW where the speed limit is currently above 80km/h.

“Early works on the program started in November 2020, and we are now announcing the implementation of the reduced speed limits at individual sites,” she said.

Level railway crossing on property near Bribbaree

The passive level railway crossing on a farming property near Bribbaree where Ethan Hunter and Mark Fenton were killed in February 2021 when their B-double collided with a freight train. Photo: Maddie Bott.

The NSW Government’s Level Crossing Strategy Council Yearly Report (2019-2020) said of the five collisions between a road vehicle and train in NSW in 2019-2020, all occurred in regional areas. Four of them occurred at crossings with passive control equipment – one involving a heavy vehicle.

Transport for NSW said its Level Crossing Improvement Program currently identifies the highest risk passive level crossings across the state that are to be upgraded to active crossings.

It said speed limits at passive level crossings vary and are set by assessing a range of factors in line with NSW Speed Zoning Guidelines to balance the risk to road users.

Transport for NSW told Region Media it will be working with NSW Rail Infrastructure managers to jointly assess new technologies which may be used to improve safety at public and private level crossings.

Maddie Bott’s petition will be tabled in NSW Parliament at a date yet to be confirmed by Steph Cooke’s office.

Speed limit changes

Nubba South Road, Wallendbeen – The current 100km/h speed zone will be decreased to 60km/h from about 750 metres north to 850 metres south of the level crossing.

Olympic Highway, Bethungra – The current 100km/h speed zone will be decreased to 80km/h from about 830 metres north to 730 metres south of the level crossing.

Olympic Highway, Illabo – The current 100km/h speed zone will be reduced to 60km/h for about 550 metres either side of the level crossing.

Grogan Road, Stockinbingal – The current 100km/h speed zone will be reduced to 80km/h from approximately 890 metres north to 860 metres south of the level crossing.

Other southern NSW level railway crossings with new speed limits are located further west on Burley Griffin Way at Springdale; Newell Highway at Mirrool; Goldfields Way at Reefton; Showground Road at West Wyalong; Irrigation Way at Leeton, Widgelli and Wumbulgal; Cobb Highway at Barnes and MacKellar; and Regulator Road at Yanco.

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