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Remembering the Kerang train crossing tragedy
Today (5 June) is the 10-year anniversary of the Kerang train crash which killed 11 passengers. It was a tragedy that changed the lives of many and prompted important Victorian road safety reforms.
By Nicole Russo
Kerang Fire Brigade was paged to a traffic accident on the railway line. “It was not unusual for us to be called to a traffic accident,” said Captain Ramon Steel, because the brigade attends multiple incidents a year.
But when brigade members arrived at the scene, the magnitude of the devastating incident quickly dawned on them. A semi-trailer truck had crashed into a V-Line train and derailed it. This was an incident unlike any other they had attended before.
“We walked down to see two carriages had been ripped open. Police were checking the carriages to determine exactly what emergency services personnel had to deal with,” Ramon said.
To the Kerang members’ surprise, the truck driver was alive and already out of the vehicle receiving treatment from Ambulance Victoria paramedics.
Kerang brigade’s initial task was to ensure there was no fire. The truck was secured by disconnecting the battery, using foam and feeding out two hose lines to ensure there was no immediate risk.
“Our 2nd Lieutenant Peter Boal is a paramedic for Rural Ambulance Victoria. He was a calming presence on the day and played a major role in the rescue,” continued Ramon.
“Using his experience, Peter helped limit other volunteers’ exposure.”
The incident carried through to the following day as the recovery process began. “I handpicked a crew of skilled and mature members who I knew would be able to handle this situation.”
The scene was graphic and took its toll on members as loved ones of the deceased arrived on scene.
“We hope to never ever see anything like this again. We created an imaginary barrier between us and the public; we had a job to do.”
With critical incident support (CIS) available for all members exposed to this incident, they were able to work together to cope with the aftermath.
This incident highlighted to Ramon and Kerang brigade members the importance of communicating.
“We are a strong brigade. We talked through it together and got through it together. After every incident that’s distressing we seek peer support and I call my members to make sure they’re OK.”
Stuart Broad, District 20 operations manager on the day of the incident (pictured above) commended CIS. Stuart said that, because of our proactive peer support, the CFA crews on scene have had no long-term effects from this incident.
“The volunteers of both CFA and SES will never forget what they saw here, so emotional support was crucial,” Stuart said.
The incident resulted in a much-needed overhaul of level crossing boom gates across the state. Stuart said that is a tribute to the coronial inquiry’s excellent decision to improve road safety.
“Today we can see level crossings, rumble strips and 80,000 boom gates operating across the state.
“This was a tragic incident no matter which way you look at it. But from how this incident was managed, we have been able to learn and grow.
“The professionalism of our people, SES and Victoria Police was outstanding. This was inter-agency operations at its best. We shared a common goal as emergency services to manage this operation as a team.”
While the incident has brought improvements to level crossings and state traffic laws, it has not taken away from the devastation that has left an imprint on the lives of many. The 10-year anniversary prompts us all to remember the lives of those who perished and the extraordinary work of our emergency services.