Car alarm to catch the train

By Paul Hemsley

The Victorian government will test if communications technology can warn car drivers that trains are approaching at railway crossings. Before they hit them.

After some 600 collisions between trains and cars at railway crossings over the past decade, state transport and safety agencies now want to test systems to determine if the number of accidents can be significantly lowered by removing the potential for often fatal errors of judgement.

The automated sensor and warning technology offers significant potential to yield tangible results in accident reductions because modern technology has now evolved to a point where it is both faster and more precise than human reactions.

Dubbed the Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC), the anti-collision technology is based on global positioning systems (GPS) and wireless communications similar to that used by mobile phones.

It enables car drivers to receive warnings sent by trains as they approach level crossings.

The system warns the car driver of the presence of a level crossing ahead, followed by notification that a train is nearby with a flashing light.  An emergency alert sounds within the car if a collision is imminent.

The anti-collision trial’s first stage involved technology development, followed by simulations in the second stage, with the current third stage involving 100 vehicles at three level crossings in regional areas.

Public Transport Victoria (PTV), La Trobe University and the Automotive Cooperative Research Centre (AutoCRC) are now in the final phase of the $5.5 million three-year project.

The Victorian Government has contributed $1.2 million to the project.

Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder said collisions between cars and trains have “devastating consequences”.

Mr Mulder said the state government was committed to improving safety at level crossings and eliminating the “senseless loss of lives and suffering these collisions cause”.

La Trobe University's Centre for Technology Infusion Director, Professor Jack Singh said the technology is expected to be available in new cars by 2014.

“By using the latest in wireless technology we can create 360 degree driver awareness over a longer range at far cheaper costs – and at vehicle speeds of up to 200 kilometres per hour,” Prof Singh said.

According to an Austroads report, present totals of around 29,000 serious casualties a year from all vehicle collisions (including trains) could be reduced to between 18,500 and 21,500 serious casualties, a reduction of between 25 per cent and 35 per cent.

However, there is no guaranteed time frame for the deployment of DSRC technology it is still subject to a number of policy and funding decisions both overseas and in Australia.

US decision on the mandating of DSRC technology within its borders is expected to be made in 2013.

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