Academic aims to design safer rail crossings

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Academic aims to design safer rail crossings

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Published on 27 November 2012

27 November 2012

Research into the redesign of rail level crossings to make them safer and more appropriate for all road users is being conducted by University of the Sunshine Coast Senior Research Fellow Paul Salmon.

Associate Professor Salmon, who relocated to USC from Victoria’s Monash University in October, has spent 11 years conducting human factors research into various safety-critical domains including the military, aviation, workplaces, disaster response, rail and road transport.

“Research into human factors is all about understanding human performance and then designing systems to improve or enhance human performance,” Dr Salmon said.

“There is a huge safety problem with rail level crossings in Australia. The four-year research program, led by Dr Michael Lenne at Monash University, is built around the idea that we don’t really understand road user behaviour at rail level crossings, and that they aren’t designed particularly well for all road users.”

Dr Salmon said the first part of the study had examined the decision-making process of drivers as they negotiate rail crossings.

“We conducted various on-road studies in our first year where we used an instrumented vehicle to record facets of driver behaviour including where the driver is looking and what their speed and braking behaviour is like on approach to the crossing. We also get the drivers to think out aloud so we know what they’re thinking.”

Dr Salmon said the next part of the study would involve designing safer rail crossings.

“Once we understand how the rail level crossing system works and how different road users, including cyclists and pedestrians, respond to it, we will design and test rail crossings that will be more suitable for all road users and will hopefully reduce accidents,” he said.

“There are about 6,000 rail crossings in Australia which don’t have boom gates but it costs, in rough figures, about one million dollars to upgrade each rail crossing with boom gates.

“We aim to design a lower-cost solution, which is as effective as boom gates, so that more rail level crossings will become safer much more quickly.”

USC’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research Professor Roland De Marco welcomed Dr Salmon to the Sunshine Coast.

He said he was excited about Dr Salmon’s outstanding research portfolio, along with his Monash University collaboration on another road safety project that recently won a $570,000 ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIFE) grant.

— Michelle Widdicombe

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