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Main Roads considers changing railway crossing controls after Murchison pastoralist lobby to increase safety

Jessica MoroneyGeraldton Guardian
Lara Jensen
Camera IconLara Jensen Credit: Stephanie Coombes/Stephanie Coombes

After years of tireless calls to strengthen safety warnings at uncontrolled railway crossings, Main Roads has noted they will “consider” changing crossing controls if sight requirements aren’t met.

Murchison pastoralist and lobbyist for safer railway crossings Lara Jensen lost her brother Christian and his two friends Jess Broad and Hilary Smith in a railway crossing incident in July 2000.

Gordon Homewood, 6, Alice Homewood, 5 and Matilda Homewood, 3.
Camera IconGordon Homewood, 6, Alice Homewood, 5 and Matilda Homewood, 3. Credit: Lara Jensen/RegionalHUB

After the death of Ms Jensen’s brother on the Yarramony passive level crossing in the Wheatbelt, three State coroners — including WA State Coroner Alastair Hope — concluded inadequate train lighting was a factor in the fatality.

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In October 2001, Mr Hope recommended immediate action be taken to identify how lighting could be fitted “relatively high up on locomotives” to provide “effective warning to motor vehicle drivers”.

A rail crossing in the WA Wheatbelt.
Camera IconA rail crossing in the WA Wheatbelt. Credit: Supplied/Supplied

Fourteen years later, flashing lights were installed at Yarramony crossing. Since then, Ms Jensen has exhaustively pleaded for change to train visibility and safety, asking only that all passive level crossings in WA be protected by stop signs. Out of 509 passive level crossings, 401 are controlled by stop signs and 108 with give-way signs.

In a letter dated September 9, 2022 Main Roads director Des Snook said a review of give-way controls was in progress, and where sight line requirements weren’t met, “consideration will be made”.

Birds eye view of what was once a passive rail road crossing
Camera IconBird’s-eye view of what was once a passive rail road crossing Credit: Lara Jensen/RegionalHUB

Main Roads crossing control guidelines state that give-way signs are sufficient if enough visibility is provided for a driver to see an oncoming train and stop, and applies to crossings where traffic is relatively low.

Ms Jensen said during the coronial inquest, Main Roads found an average of 78 vehicles crossed the railway a day at the time of the accident. She said that amount of traffic should not constitute ‘relatively low’ traffic.

“The unconscionable lack of action for decades by the rail industry is reprehensible,” Ms Jensen said.

Wondingong Station pastoralist Lara Jensen with her children Gordon Jensen, 5, and Alice Jensen, 4, and Matilda Jensen, 2, her sister Annemaree Jensen, mother and father Catherine Jensen and Laurie Jensen (third from right), with Beverley resident George Smith, and Perth resident Milly Dempster, and Moore MLA Shane Love, at the Yarramony Rail Crossing where Christian Jensen, Hilary Smith and Jess Broad were killed on July 8, 2000.
Camera IconLara Jensen with her children Gordon Jensen, 5, and Alice Jensen, 4, and Matilda Jensen, 2, her sister Annemaree Jensen, mother and father Catherine Jensen and Laurie Jensen (third from right), with Beverley resident George Smith, and Perth resident Milly Dempster, and Moore MLA Shane Love, at the Yarramony Rail Crossing where Christian Jensen, Hilary Smith and Jess Broad were killed on July 8, 2000. Credit: Alison Cooke/Alison Cooke

Main Roads spokesperson Dean Roberts said Main Roads was in the process of correlating road volumes and speeds, and expected to have a final report in December.

“Ninety-nine out of the 108 give-way controlled sites, and 396 out of the 400 stop sign controlled sites being investigated have now been visited,” he said.

Shire of Cue deputy president Les Price raised the issue at the Australian Local Government Association national general assembly in June. He said the tireless campaigning was an effort to raise awareness and grow support to action improved safety and warning signals for drivers.

“If our trucks were to be on the roads without light recognition we would have a major problem, and it’s no different to trains,” he said.

Western Roads Federation CEO Cam Dumesny said improving safety around uncontrolled railroad crossings was a fair and reasonable call.

“We have mile-long freight trains that largely only have one light on the front and one light on the rear, and no light on the side. Yet they cross our road network,” he said.

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