A woman was killed in 2012 when a freight train hit her car at Werribee's Cherry Street level crossing.

A woman was killed in 2012 when a freight train hit her car at Werribee's Cherry Street level crossing. Photo: Cathy Jackson

Australia's transport safety watchdog has recommended big changes to one of Melbourne's most dangerous level crossings, after investigating a fatal smash between a freight train and a car last year.

A woman, 65, in the passenger seat of a Toyota Corolla was killed at the Cherry Street level crossing in Werribee when the car was hit by a 3000-tonne freight train on May 25, 2012. The car driver, a woman in her 30s, survived.

An investigation report, released last week, found the Corolla had been in the path of the approaching train, but that the crossing's safety problems were ''complex and extensive''.

Changes recommended at Cherry Street level crossing.

Changes recommended at Cherry Street level crossing.

Crucially, the report did not find that the driver behaved recklessly, but that she ''acted like most other drivers would in her situation'', entering the crossing before the bells and boom gates had activated, only to find a broken-down vehicle ahead blocking her way.

''She followed relatively free-flowing traffic into the Cherry Street level crossing with the expectation that she would safely exit the other side,'' the report states.

''Unbeknown to her, the right lane just beyond the crossing was obstructed by a broken-down car. As road traffic continued through the level crossing, the car ahead of the Corolla stopped behind the broken-down car. The Corolla then came to a stand directly behind this car but was fouling the track with a train now approaching.''

The report notes the woman had less than 30 seconds to act, was blocked from driving forward, opted not to reverse after seeing a Metro train at Werribee station, finally decided to leave the car, but too late to avoid being hit.

The driver of the train, which was 1.2 kilometres long and travelling at 77km/h, also had little time to react, because his view of the level crossing was obscured by the sweeping right-hand curve in the track.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau recommended several changes to make the Cherry Street crossing safer, although it stopped short of proposing it should go.

The crossing was this year listed among the 10 worst in Victoria in a poll of train drivers taken by the Australasian Railway Association. Vehicles are regularly seen queueing through the crossing.

The bureau's proposed improvements include changing the road design to give drivers a clearer view of traffic ahead, installing a vehicle refuge and short-range warning lights, reducing the length of the crossing, which is unusually long at 34 metres, and co-ordinating the boom gates with the traffic signal at a nearby pedestrian crossing.

The recommendations were made to Metro and to the Wyndham City Council, both of whom responded in writing to investigators.

The council disagreed with the bureau's assessment that that crossing was unnecessarily long, noting in its response that ''the additional length provides a warning to drivers as to where they should and should not go''.

But Metro noted that it agreed that ''shortening the crossing may provide a risk benefit''.