B-Double walls of death for Blue Mountains

No chance!
A B-Double crosses the wrong side of the Hume Highway
and slams head-on into a car killing all three occupants

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Last Friday, a brick-laden truck crossed a grass embankment, crashed through a guard rail and ended up on the opposite side of the Menangle Bridge on the Hume Highway south of Sydney.  It slammed head-on into a car killing the three people inside.

[Source: ‘From joy to instant death‘, by Nick Ralston, 20120125, Illawarra Mercury, ^http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/news/local/news/general/from-joy-to-instant-death/2432730.aspx]
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It is only a matter of time before such a tragedy befalls the Great Western Highway in the Blue Mountains as more and more B-Doubles ply this regional route.

Driving along many highways throughout Australia has become deadly as more and bigger trucks travel faster just a metre away on the other side of a white line or two.  Not only are there more semi-trailers, but trucking companies are increasingly putting larger capacity B-double trucks on the road, which can weigh over 70 tonnes.

When 70 tonnes hits you it is an instant wall of death.

A speeding semi ploughs into the front yard of a home in Rosanna,
in eastern Melbourne on 21st September 2010

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Yet both Liberal and Labor governments at both national and state level are pouring billions of taxpayer dollars to facilitate more road freight on Australian highways, while ignoring the comparative line haul efficiencies and inherent safety of rail freight.

In 1998, the New South Wales Labor Government announced a 12-year $360 million ‘upgrade’ of the Great Western and Mitchell Highways between Penrith (outer Sydney) and Orange in the central west of NSW.   In addition, the Federal Liberal-National Coalition Government committed an extra $100 million as part of its Auslink National Network.

The ‘upgrade’ meant transforming the two lane regional highway over the Blue Mountains into a four lane 80kph expressway to facilitate greater and faster trucking – a ‘trucking expressway‘.  The then promoted features of this new trucking expressway were to be:

  • Widening of the highway to a four lane, divided road between Penrith and Katoomba
  • Widening the highway to mostly three lanes between Katoomba and Mount Victoria (including Blackheath)
  • Providing additional overtaking lanes along stretches of the highway
  • Improving pedestrian and traffic facilities at intersections crossing the highway in townships
  • providing bicycle facilities along the highway
  • Extensive landscaping and urban design initiatives within Blue Mountains towns and villages.’

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[Source:  NSW Roads and Traffic Authority Great Western Highway Upgrade’ brochure, January 2002]

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Well, the widening is certainly carving through Blue Mountains communities and bushland. Pedestrian walkways and crossings are few and far between and the few cycle lanes are within a metre of B-doubles hurtling along at 80kph – those that stick to the speed limit. Who’d be a cyclist on the Great Western Highway now unless one had a death wish?

Destruction in progress yesterday at Boddington Hill, east of Wentworth Falls
Great Western Highway Blue Mountains
(Photo by Editor 20120201, free in public domain, click photo to enlarge)

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In September 2008, the then Federal Labor MP Bob Debus for the Macquarie electorate (covering the Blue Mountains region) committed another $450 million on the Great Western Highway to bypass the village of Mount Victoria  and River Lett Hill near Lithgow.

Debus revealed the purpose of the widening on his website:

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“The bypass will halve times between Mt Victoria and Lithgow, reduce accidents by two-thirds, and improve freight transport from the Central West .

The bypass will provide a route on the western escarpment more suited to the operation of heavy vehicles than the current Victoria Pass…”

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[Source:  ‘Bob Debus for Macquarie E-news #2‘,  Bob Debus MP website, ^http://www.bobdebus.com/newsletter2.html  (page since defunct since Debus has resigned from Federal Parliament]

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The joint Labor-Liberal policy focus on developing road freight and ignoring rail freight is short-sighted 20th Century truck thinking.  But it is also meaning our regional highways are morphing into bigger and faster freight routes – trucking expressways.  Local communities are having to share regional roads with huge trucks.

The trucking industry has allowed itself to become largely contract based where drivers instead of being paid for their time driving are paid on a trip rate.   This means that the more trips a driver makes and the faster the delivery times, the more money the drivers earn.   This work arrangement only encourages truck drivers to drive faster, often too fast, with disastrous consequences.

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‘It is a statistic that will alarm police and governments dealing with a string of fatal road accidents: almost two thirds of long haul truck drivers interviewed for a national study say their employers pressure them into using unsafe work practices.’

[Source: ‘Truckies pushed into danger zone’, by Andrew West, Sydney Morning Herald, 20100109, p.2]

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Recent fatalities on NSW roads , including the death of an 11-year-old boy, have sparked a renewed call for action on trucks in the Mountains.

Deputy Mayor Mark Greenhill moved a matter of urgency at Blue Mountains City Council (BMCC) meeting 31st January 2012, calling on state and federal government representatives to meet with BMCC to discuss “means and methods by which large trucks can be limited or controlled in terms of behaviour on the Great Western Highway over the Blue Mountains” following several shocking incidents in other areas of the state.

Clr Greenhill:  “While the courts have not yet had a chance to determine guilt or otherwise, and I don’t seek to either, recent accidents on NSW roads stand testimony to the awesome power of these trucks,” he said.  “In the Campbelltown area a large truck went over the top of a car and killed three people.  They had no chance. In coastal NSW a boy was killed while sleeping in his house when a large truck ploughed through it.”  

Eleven-year-old boy killed when a B-double crashes through his bedroom
Anyone living within 100 metres of a highway has got cause for concern

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Penrith residents are mourning the death of Max MacGregor, the 11-year-old killed when a truck loaded with bananas crashed through his bedroom on the state’s mid-north coast.  Max was asleep in the holiday home his family were renting in Urunga when, at 5am on Sunday, a B-double semi collided head-on with a ute before swerving into the holiday home (100 metres from the highway).

[Source:  ‘B-double fatality on mid-north coast brings Penrith family’s holiday to tragic end’, by Emma Schiller, 20120110, Penrith Press, ^http://penrith-press.whereilive.com.au/news/story/penrith-familys-holiday-tragedy/]

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Clr Greenhill:   “When things go wrong and [trucks] are out of control, they are an uncompromising and deadly weapon.  “In that context, people have been killed in significant numbers in the Blue Mountains. It is a scandal to me that governments are not doing more to control tucks on the highway across the Mountains.  “This should especially be the case while the highway works are under way.”

Clr Greenhill released BMCC figures in September last year that showed trucks were over-represented in local crash statistics and motorists were three times more likely to die in a collision with one.  The statistics showed that from 2005 to 2009, trucks represented nearly a third of all vehicles involving deaths despite being less than a third of vehicles on local roads.  Three per cent of all truck crashes were fatal, compared to one per cent of crashes by all other vehicles, the figures showed.

Clr Greenhill said he had reports from local residents about large trucks “even braving the Old Bathurst Road bends”, and said he would like to see vehicles such as B-doubles off local roads for the time being.’

[Source: ‘Tragedies spark call for action on trucks’, by Krystyna Pollard, 20120201, Blue Mountains Gazette, ^http://www.bluemountainsgazette.com.au/news/local/news/general/tragedies-spark-call-for-action-on-trucks/2440033.aspx]

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‘Give Rail a Go’

[Source: Letter to the Editor, Blue Mountains Gazette, 20120201, p4]
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The tragic accident involving a 25/26m B-double truck at Menangle last week reaffirms the fact that the Great Western Highway, even after the upgrade to Katoomba is completed, will never be suitable for these massive trucks.

Yet the federal government is funding stage one of a multi-billion dollar highway bypass between Mt Victoria and Lithgow, the main purpose being to allow 25/26/30m B-double trucks carrying up to 77 tonnes to use the highway through the Blue Mountains.  Despite overwhelming community  disapproval the federal government is pushing ahead with stage one, a purpose built 25/26/30m B-double bypass at River Lett Hill.

The Blackheath Highway Action Group along with many other Blue Mountains Groups successfully lobbied for an independent review to be conducted on the proposed Mount Victoria to Lithgow highway bypass and the future of the highway west of Katoomba.  In July 2011 the NSW government appointed Evans and Peck, a firm with local knowledge to conduct this review. the review was completed in November so why is the federal government stalling on its public release?

The federal government refuses to fund a $5 million rail study, a key recommendation of the Central West Transport Needs Study.  Rail deserves the same funding, tax incentives and regulatory framework as is currently given to support long haul trucking.

For the sake of safety, local amenity and the long term sustainability it’s time to give rail a fair go and permanently abandon plans to spend billions to turn our highway inot a 25/26/30m B-double freight corridor.’

~ Michael Paag, Chairman, Blackheath Highway Action Group, Blue Mountains

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‘Head-on crash: driver dies as truck explodes’

[Source: ‘Head-on crash: driver dies as truck explodes’, by Glenda Kwek, 20120124, Sydney Morning Herald, ^http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/headon-crash-driver-dies-as-truck-explodes-20120124-1qehm.html]

‘A driver has died after a truck caught fire and exploded following a head-on collision between the tabletop truck and B-double took place about 24 kilometres south of Dubbo at Mountain Creek Road about 4am, emergency services said. The Newell Highway in Dubbo is closed in both directions between Mitchell Highway and Tomingley Road.  The tabletop truck was carrying food and plastic food containers, and the B-double was carrying fertiliser, Ms O’Connor said.’

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‘Orange truck rollover’

Truck Roll Over at the intersection of Burrendong Way & The Northern Distributor
Orange, Central NSW, 20100629
[Source: ‘Orange truck rollover’ by Steve Smith, Rural Fire Service, Canobolas, ^http://www.canobolas.rfs.nsw.gov.au/dsp_content.cfm?cat_id=131107]

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‘Teenage driver killed in truck collision’

[Source: ‘Teenage driver killed in truck collision’ by Ellen Lutton, 20111218, Brisbane Times with AAP, ^http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/teenage-driver-killed-in-truck-collision-20111217-1p0ax.html]

‘One woman was killed and five people were injured in two accidents involving B-double trucks.  Engineers were called to the scene of a dramatic accident on the Gateway Motorway at Boondall in Brisbane about midday yesterday, when a B-double truck exploded after it and a car collided.  The intensity of the explosion and subsequent fire was so severe that parts of the truck fused together,  raising concerns about damage to the road and overpass bridge underneath, a police spokeswoman said.

(Meanwhile) on the Bruce Highway near Rockhampton, a 19-year-old woman died and four people were injured when a car and a B-double truck collided. Police said the station wagon tried to turn into the southbound lanes of the Bruce Highway at Marmor just before 8pm on Friday when the car and truck, which was travelling in the northbound lane, collided.

The 19-year-old driver was killed, while her three female passengers, two aged 19 and one aged 18, were taken to Rockhampton hospital.  The three are in a stable condition.The 65-year-old driver of the B-double was taken to hospital for precautionary treatment and has been released.

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‘Three trucks involved in two separate highway collisions’

[Source: ‘Three trucks involved in two separate highway collisions’, by Wendy Marshall and Kate Moody, 20100408, Daily Liberal, ^http://www.dailyliberal.com.au/news/local/news/general/three-trucks-involved-in-two-separate-highway-collisions/1797078.aspx]

A 50-year old man was taken to Dubbo Base Hospital with serious injuries after a collision between a B-double truck and a utility vehicle, occurred about 1.15pm on the Newell Highway just south of Gilgandra.

Earlier in the day, in a separate accident, two trucks collided 25 km outside of Dubbo on the Golden Highway.  A UD truck crashed into the back of a Mitsubishi Canter turning right at the Barbigal Road turn off to Wongarbon about 11.40am yesterday.

At the scene, Ballimore RFS deputy captain Col Buckler said the Golden Highway was not currently built for trucks and “most definitively” needed upgrading.

“This is the official B-double road to Newcastle (and) the roads need to be built to carry trucks,” Mr Buckler said.  “It’s time they spent money to make it safer because of the amount of trucks that use it.”

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‘Fatal crash between car and truck causes explosion, closes Pacific Highway’

[Source: ‘Fatal crash between car and truck causes explosion, closes Pacific Highway’, by Nathan Klein, The Daily Telegraph, 20110405, ^http://www.news.com.au/fatal-crash-between-car-and-truck-closes-pacific-highway/story-e6freuy9-1226033739809?from=public_rss]
Flames … scenes from a fatal crash between a B double truck and a car on the Pacific Highway south of Macksville.
(Photo by Frank Redward)

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AT least one person has been killed in the fiery collision between a car and a B-double truck at Warrell Creek, about 10km south of Macksville, just before 4am today.

“The B-doubles can’t pass using the diversion as the rail overpass is not suitable for their weight,” a spokesman for the Roads and Traffic Authority told AAP.

The truck involved in the crash was carrying chemicals and exploded in flames on impact, but Fire and Rescue NSW extinguished the blaze.  One person from the car has been confirmed dead, but police say it’s not clear how many people were in the car when it crashed.

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‘Driver’s lucky escape’

[Source: ‘Driver’s lucky escape’, 20100730, Cowra Guardian, ^http://www.canobolas.rfs.nsw.gov.au/dsp_content.cfm?cat_id=131113]
The overturned B-Double truck 2km south on the Boorowa Road

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‘A Canberra man was lucky to escape without serious injury after the B-Double truck he was driving along the Boorowa Rd overturned at 6.15am on Wednesday morning. The 42 year old man lost control of the vehicle 2km south out of town and ran off the road, before the entire truck overturned and spilled out over both lanes of the road.

The overturned truck was carrying furniture and concrete slabs and left more than a dozen slabs scattered over the road. Local resident Russell Denning said he heard a ‘monstrous bang’ when the truck crashed on the road near his home.

Senior Constable John Newton said a lack of attention from the driver appears to be the cause of the accident but police are still investigating.

“At this stage it appears the driver was distracted but there are still final enquiries to be completed,” he said.  “My understanding is the driver will receive an infringement for negligent driving.”

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5 Responses to “B-Double walls of death for Blue Mountains”

  1. vini says:

    Railex 5 day non-stop private coast-to-coast railway transport with state of the art quality controlled distribution centers and real-time GPS inventory tracking is the greener alternative to refrigerated trucking companies
    http://www.railexusa.com

  2. john james says:

    how can this be justified through the centre of a residential district where nearly EVERY inhabitant opposes it?
    we might as well have Hitler and Stalin back and be done with the hypocrisy.

  3. Johnny says:

    I’ve witnessed a 10 car pile up with two fatalities on Parramatta road in Five Dock in Sydney due to large truck speeding. Two innocent people lost their lives and their families lost them forever. It was negligence by the driver.

    I feel they don’t appreciate the responsibility that comes with driving such heavy vehicles. He was of course. He walked away. Unlike the poor survivor who needed 3 hours to cut him free.

    Enough is enough. Let’s use the rail network where applicable.

  4. Todd – Interstate Driver says:

    Mong heads, rail can’t go door to door and 90% of truck crashed are caused by idiots in cars.

  5. Editor says:

    Todd,

    Most car drivers are incompetent, and of them many are idiots, especially those arrogant on probationary licences with still immature brains.

    Heavy vehicle drivers are responsible for much more than car drivers, and they are paid as a skilled trade. But the ‘professional driver’ is a falsehood and a myth.

    Since the community and governments expect that heavy vehicle drivers are responsible for much more than car drivers, and since they are paid as a skilled trade; so collisions, damage, injuries and/or death caused by heavy vehicle need to properly trigger a criminal offence. If convicted, the penalty imposed needs to be a mandatory custodial sentence, as well as imposing multiple years exclusion from driving any vehicle (at least 5), followed by mandatory retraining from teh groudn up and a behavioural assessment before allowed loose again.

    So yes, mong drivers deserve mong penalties.

    Rail can and does replace linehaul trucking in smart countries. If properly run freight rail is more efficient, and with contemporary multimodal terminals can effect efficient despatch by local truck delivery to depot, warehouse or client door.

    However, driving trucks linehaul/interstate is underpaid, stressful, unhealthy, prone to stimulant-taking, lonely and dangerous; especially overnight and solo.
    Driving freight trains is a far better existence than driving trucks and without killer bank debt. Ask a freight train driver and check it out.

    Thanks Todd.

    Ed.
    (licenced for HC (semi), authorised bus driver, motorbike, commercial helicopter (low-level), unrestricted fixed wing, coxswain, forklift, and car).

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