I have spent hours on the road as president of the Country Women's Association of NSW, travelling to branch functions.
At times I have benefitted from the investment in rural and regional transport infrastructure and at others despaired at the lack of investment or slow pace of change.
CWA of NSW believes that improving transport infrastructure is not only about enhancing regional economic development, it is also about the safety and wellbeing of users.
Over the years, CWA of NSW has advocated for initiatives to improve safety in regional and rural transport, most recently on improving safety at rail level crossings - that high-risk interface where road and rail transport cross paths.
There are more than 2700 level crossings on the NSW rail network and of those, about 1360 are on public roads, and 927 are passive crossings without boom gates and/or flashing lights.
Between 2008 and 2021, there have been 84 collisions between trains and cars at level crossings in NSW, resulting in 10 fatalities and 15 serious injuries.
In November, a petition on level crossing safety was presented to the NSW Parliament by Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke on behalf of Maddie Bott, a young woman inspired to campaign on this issue after her fiancé Ethan Hunter and his work colleague Mark Fenton lost their lives in a level crossing accident near Bribbaree in February 2021.
This petition with over 21,000 signatures and supported by CWA of NSW, called on government to improve the safety of rail level crossings throughout NSW.
This could be achieved by implementing three measures - mandatory train activated warning lights at all level crossings and where it is not possible for them to be closed or grade separated; mandatory reflective material, and strobe lights on all locomotives; and speed limits to be decreased on all highways approaching level crossings.
The petition received bipartisan support with NSW Deputy Premier, the Hon Paul Toole (then Minister for Regional Transport) confirming a commitment to improve rail level crossing safety in NSW and outlining the actions being taken through the Level Crossing Strategy Council Strategic Plan 2021-2030 to achieve this.
The Australian government committed additional funds in the 2022-23 Budget to the joint venture project between the Australian and NSW governments aimed at reducing the number of level crossings by making roads go under or over a rail line.
It allocated an additional $180 million in new funding to establish the Regional Australia Level Crossing Safety Program to improve level crossing safety in regional Australia.
At the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONSR) however, bureaucratic processes are moving slowly on improving the visibility of freight trains.
It's time to act to save lives.
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