Level crossing risk continues to be a significant safety concern for the security of rail operations around the world. Over the last decade or so, a third of railway related fatalities occurred as a direct result of collisions between road and rail vehicles in Australia. Importantly, nearly half of these collisions occurred at railway level crossings with no active protection, such as flashing lights or boom barriers. Current practice is to upgrade level crossings that have no active protection. However, the total number of level crossings found across Australia exceed 23,500, and targeting the proportion of these that are considered high risk (e.g. public crossings with passive controls) would cost in excess of AU$3.25 billion based on equipment, installation and commissioning costs of warning devices that are currently type approved.

Level crossing warning devices that are low-cost provide a potentially effective control for reducing risk; however, over the last decade, there have been significant barriers and legal issues in both Australia and the US that have foreshadowed their adoption. These devices are designed to have significantly lower lifecycle costs compared with traditional warning devices. They often make use of use of alternative technologies for train detection, wireless connectivity and solar energy supply. This paper describes the barriers that have been encountered for the adoption of these devices in Australia, including the challenges associated with: (1) determining requisite safety levels for such devices; (2) legal issues relating to duty of care obligations of railway operators; and (3) issues of Tort liability around the use of less than fail-safe equipment.

This paper provides an overview of a comprehensive safety justification that was developed as part of a project funded by a collaborative rail research initiative established by the Australian government, and describes the conceptual framework and processes being used to justify its adoption. The paper provides a summary of key points from peer review and discusses prospective barriers that may need to be overcome for future adoption. A successful outcome from this process would result in the development of a guideline for decision-making, providing a precedence for adopting low-cost level crossing warning devices in other parts of the world. The framework described in this paper also provides relevance to the review and adoption of analogous technologies in rail and other safety critical industries.

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