A WOMAN is turning her grief into action after the tragic loss of her fiance in a level crossing accident on the outskirts of the Riverina.
Ethan Hunter was just 27-years-old when he was driving a B-double truck with work colleague Mark Fenton, 50, carting gypsum through Bribbaree in late February.
Both men were killed when their truck collided with a freight train at a crossing with only a stop sign and what Mr Hunter's fiancee Madeline Bott described as "bushes disrupting a clear view".
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"I've had some people saying things like 'stop means stop' and 'don't race trains', but they don't understand that there were other factors at play," she said.
"There's dust, the afternoon sun, all the trees around the tracks, I know that if there were boom gates and flashing lights at that crossing, Ethan would still be here today."
The young couple had been together since they were 18 years old, and in March, were due to tie the knot at their dream wedding in Fiji.
Ms Bott described her Fiance as a "kind, hard-working, beautiful person", grieving his passing alongside the wider community who also came to know Ethan.
"Ethan was not a risk-taker, he was sensible and good at what he did, so despite what others might say about drivers needing to be careful, I know he would have been and yet it still happened," she said.
"The whole community is absolutely shattered by the loss of these two amazing people."
Now calling for changes to rail crossings not just in the Riverina but across the country, Ms Bott said mandatory boom gates and flashing lights would save lives.
"Only 21 per cent of crossings actually have the boom gates and lights in Australia, the rest just have a stop or give way sign," she said.
Ms Bott said recommendations to make the active signage mandatory had been made as early as 2004, but are still yet to be implemented due to cost.
However, the cost of life was already far too high.
"Every time there is an accident at one of these crossings, it costs up to $10 million and there are roughly 30 accidents every year, so we could have paid for the lights by now and more at this rate," Ms Bott said.
"You just can't put a price on life though."
But aside from the money, the impact on people's mental welfare was astonishing, according to Ms Bott.
"This is also a train driver's worst nightmare," she said.
"They have to live with that thought for the rest of their lives due to something beyond their control, lives are at risk of changing forever.
"Being a nurse myself in the emergency department, I still think of a lot of the trauma I've seen and that is nowhere near the severity of what first responders have to deal with at scenes like Ethan's."
Another young man involved in a level crossing collision a mere kilometre away from where Ethan passed away came out alive, but not without scars.
"I spoke with a young man, Jake, who had a similar incident 12 months before Ethan, and listening to how he lives with that trauma everyday is just heartbreaking," Ms Bott said.
Wagga driving instructor Glen Gaudron knows the risks of level crossings all to well, sharing his support for the signage change.
"I was over between Whitton and Griffith years ago, and there was an S-bend on the track, I was driving with the late afternoon sun in my eyes and the silver train blended in with all the tree growth, so I almost got hit," he said.
While Mr Gaudron said boom gates were life saving in theory, there needed to be improvements in the technology that controls them.
"They don't always work. I've seen it at the Bourke Street crossing here in Wagga where a train passed through but on about five or six occasions just last year, the gates didn't actually go down," he said.
"It's because, from what I have been told, they are triggered by the width of a vehicle on the lines, so if a train isn't wide enough it doesn't trigger the gates to close."
The solution to such an issue would simply mean having a more sensitive trigger system to ensure any vehicle on the tracks would cause the gates to close on approach, according to Mr Gaudron.
"We can't have eyes on everything all at once, but you almost need to in these situations," he said.
"I can't stress enough how much people need to be paying extra attention around level crossings and railways."
State Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke met with Ms Bott earlier this month to offer support for her campaign, and said "one life lost in such tragic circumstances is one life too many".
However, Ms Cooke also made note of the progress made so far towards improving railway safety.
"Transport for NSW does manage a Level Crossing Improvement Program which every year funds $7.3 million toward accelerating upgrades of priority level crossings," she said.
"Between 2011-12 and 2019-20, Transport for NSW's LCIP funded 58 major upgrades at level crossings in NSW.
"The upgrades included the installation of high intensity LED lights, bells and retro-reflective boom gates with new signs and line marking for both the rail and approach road."
Ms Bott launched a petition to support her mission for change, which has already garnered more than 13,000 signatures.
To sign and help Ms Bott's cause, visit www.change.org/p/stephanie-cook-safety-at-all-level-crossings.
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