The crew of a passenger train that ploughed into a car near Geelong last year watched on as the driver veered into its path just seconds before the near-fatal collision.
On Wednesday Australia's transport safety watchdog handed down its findings into the crash between an Overland train travelling from Melbourne to Adelaide and a utility at a level crossing in Inverleigh on August 31, 2013.
The investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau ruled that an unsealed maintenance access road running parallel to the railway track led to the collision and should be closed.
It also highlighted the need for road and rail authorities to work together to ensure the public cannot access railway maintenance tracks.
The report said the car was travelling along the dirt track, thought to be an extension of Gallagher Road, before turning onto Mahers Road and into the path of the 535-tonne train that was travelling at 78km/h.
It said the train driver sounded the horn about 100 metres from the level crossing, when the crew saw the car, but that it turned onto Mahers Road and struck the working boom gates.
The train applied its emergency brakes but it collided with the car, catapulting it to the side of the track and leaving the 70-year-old driver fighting for his life in hospital. The 103 passengers and seven crew on the train were not injured.
The report said because of the driver's position at the intersection, he had “no warning” of the train.
“With the orientation of the traffic control devices set for Mahers Road, it is likely that the driver did not detect the lights or barrier and was unaware of the train approaching from behind,” it said.
Remnants of fencing, believed to have once separated the dirt track from the public road were found nearby, giving the “false perception” that the maintenance track was a continuation of the road.
The track, which is incorrectly listed on VicRoads maps and Google as part of Gallagher Road, will be permanently closed to the public.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation and Golden Plains Shire Council had not previously identified a need to install signs because the maintenance access track was not a public road.