A LOADED truck approaches a railway level crossing. A train is travelling at speed towards the same crossing. This is a perfectly safe situation that occurs hundreds of times a day. Safe if the rules of the road are followed. If not, this is a cocktail for disaster.
A train heading along the track can weigh more than a thousand tonnes and take several footy fields to stop. Now imagine if the operator of that B-double travelling along the road decides to race the train and try to cross so they can make it to market just that little bit faster. Here is a death-trap capable of killing and producing widespread trauma throughout our community.
The risk for this deadly cocktail of steel and power can be lowered if the professionals in charge of the approaching trucks understand and respect the potential risks at a rail level crossing and have the ability to assess those risks and their own capabilities in an objective manner.
Attitudinal research by Transport for NSW shows that heavy vehicle drivers are more likely to make a judgement based on risk assessment and this can often lead to misjudgement.
While most heavy vehicle drivers see themselves as professional and responsible operators, with the skill and knowledge to correctly negotiate level crossings, assessment of a situation demonstrating a knowledge of motion physics to accurately judge the approach time of two fast moving objects working in different directional planes is complex at best. The safest call is to follow the precautionary principle: follow the warning signs.
All truck drivers have heard the term "risk" used so often that it is commonplace. In a Trip Plan, when talking to the boss, or in many other ways, the entire job is woven around assessing risk whether running from Sydney to Perth or changing a tyre on the side of the road.
Approaching a level crossing can be seen as assessing risk and it is a complex assessment.
But it is not a difficult task. Warning signs and signals differ with a simple stop or give way sign being the only warning in many rural areas through to boom gates, flashing lights, and warning sounds in more populous areas. There are many in between.
Every effort is made to warn motorists of hazards when approaching a level crossing. They are there for a reason: a train could be imminent. Remember trains, especially freight ones, don't always run to a timetable and you can never know for sure when one is or isn't coming.
Take home message? Take care, assess the risk, and obey the signs and signals. A driver driving for fuel economy will be backing off on the approach to any potential obstruction to the flow of traffic such as a level crossing.
Professional drivers should also remember the basics of safety, for example when one train passes through a level crossing, wait and ensure there is not another one travelling in the opposite direction on the second track.
If you are in a slow line of traffic, stop. Don't cross unless there is enough room for your entire rig on the other side. Don't let your rig hang over the crossing. At slower speeds it could take a truck longer to negotiate a level crossing, and the train will be at the crossing much quicker than you realise.
Every time you approach a level crossing, particularly in regional areas, take notice of the stop or give way sign. Stop and look and stay safe: always assume a train is coming.
Developing the innate skills to assess the risk is particularly important to drivers with less than five years' experience, and learning to assess the speed of a vehicle travelling at an oblique angle to a truck's direction is a far different assessment than the linear assessment of an approaching vehicle on the same road.
But this should never happen; the risk should never be taken. The bottom line is if you misjudge the risk, you could face devastating consequences for yourself, your family and your livelihood.
Remember: the train cannot stop for you. It's not worth taking the risk.
In the second of the series we will look at supplying a series of tools to professional drivers on how to stay safe when negotiating level crossings when going about the daily job and the best way to build knowledge to keep all road users safe.