In re a railway accident at Kerang (Coroners Court of Victoria, Coroner Hendtlass, 21 October 2013, reported in Shepparton News, 22 October 2013 at p. 13 and Weekly Times, 23 October 2013 at p. 13)
Hat-tip to journalist Chris McLennan whose report provided material for this casenote.
On 5 June 2007 a truck collided with a passenger train near the Victorian town of Kerang, causing the deaths of 11 passengers and seriously injuring another eight. At his subsequent criminal trial, the truck driver gave evidence that he had not seen the crossing warning lights flash and believed it was safe for him to cross (1).
The accident was the subject of investigation by the Coroner. In the course of her investigation, Her Honour also considered 15 other deaths at rail crossings occurring between 2002 and 2009.
The Coroner’s report noted that of the accidents considered, two drivers saw the train too late to stop, and ten neither saw nor heard the level crossing lights or sounds nor the train itself. She observed that the horns fixed to trains were designed for warning pedestrians rather than drivers.
Interestingly, weather and road design appear to have little influence on these accidents, with over 80% of accidents in rural areas occurring in clear weather and on a straight road.
A finding which may interest plaintiff lawyers is the observation that the fitting of anti-lock brakes to the driver’s truck may have contributed to the accident: while the Coroner could not state that the truck would have stopped before the collision had it not been fitted with anti-lock brakes, she was “confident the force of the collision would have been reduced and the consequences less severe”.
(1) The driver was charged with 11 counts of culpable driving and acquitted: R v Christian Scholl (Supreme Court of Victoria, jury trial, 2009, unreported)