Pedestrian safety around light rail a balance: transport experts

Transport experts have said safety messages and infrastructure around Canberra's light rail network require a balance.

Emergency services at the scene of a collision between a tram and a pedestrian in Canberra on Saturday morning. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

Emergency services at the scene of a collision between a tram and a pedestrian in Canberra on Saturday morning. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

An ACT government spokeswoman said initial investigations suggested the pedestrian had stepped in front of the vehicle against a red signal while wearing headphones.

One expert has recommended lowering the speed limit for the new light rail vehicles to 40 km/h, echoing similar calls from a pedestrian safety group in November last year.

"Speed is such an important aspect for protecting our most vulnerable road users," said Dr Jennie Oxley, an associate professor at Monash University's Accident Research Centre.

She said there was a trade off between convenience and safety but she said governments should look at it from a "pure safety aspect".

"All of the evidence says you should not have a mix of vulnerable road users and vehicles with speed limits higher than 40 to 50 km/h."

Light rail vehicles are slated to travel at maximum speeds of 70km/h along the network's Gungahlin corridor.

University of Sydney transport expert David Levinson said in European cities trams shared the streets with pedestrians.

"It's not a problem. Part of it's the speed and the expectation," Professor Levinson said.

But Professor Levinson said at Northbourne Avenue, pedestrians were crossing six lanes of traffic and now two tracks.

"That's eight different points where someone can come in and hit you and you're trying to make the decision before that happens," he said.

"That's a complicated thing for a human to do."

He also suggested having one consistent green light for pedestrians when crossing Northbourne so they could travel across the entire avenue instead of having to stop midway.

"Cars don't have to stop halfway through the intersection, why would pedestrians need to?" Professor Levinson said.

Professor Levinson also warned against overloading the network with safety warnings.

"You put a sign everywhere, no sign means anything. You put a sign nowhere and no one has any information," Professor Levinson said.

Professor Levinson said getting it right was a balance.

Putting up fences risked making it too restrictive for pedestrians, having safety supervisors at major intersections would be too expensive in the long term and loud warning horns would disturb people living in or using the area, he said.

"You want this to be a self explaining experience for the pedestrian."

Dr Mark King from the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety Queensland said most light rail or tram networks see an initial uptake in incidents in their first six months before they tended to die down.

"It seemed to be people getting used to it in places where they haven't before," Dr King said.

He said there should be stronger ways of promoting safety messages, especially to people who may not access mainstream television or media.

Dr King also agreed with Professor Levinson saying having manned crossings would be expensive and couldn't be done 24 hours a day.

"That's a very large scale intervention. It's more of a problem at night time," Dr King.

He said people may find it harder to see line markings or warning lights and others may also be drunk.

"Drink walking is a problem ... it's just a risk factor."

A 2015 risk analysis for Sydney's light rail estimated the network could cause more than one fatality per year.

An ACT government spokesperson said a similar analysis for Canberra's light rail network was not ready to be publicly released.

"Safety and risk assessments are part of the ongoing approval and regulatory process for light rail operations," the spokeswoman said.