There’s no question over the fact that he was at the wheel, or what happened after impact. And we know that the crossings lights and bells worked, because the traffic coming the other way had stopped, and the lights could still be clearly seen flashing hours afterwards in the TV news footage.
The question wasn’t whether he failed to stop, but whether it was culpable driving. Reading some of the news stories, it seems the jury decided it was not, on the basis that he didn’t see the flashing lights and the train until too late — and that V/Line and others had actually asked for an upgrade of the crossing for some time before the crash because of poor visibility.
No infrastructure is perfect. It can’t save you from yourself if you’re inattentive. I think it’s a shame when people don’t take responsibility for their own actions. And I sincerely hope that others don’t take the lesson from this that it’s okay to behave recklessly around level crossings. The attitude towards them seems quite different to that towards other road hazards — and I wonder if this played a part in the verdict.
Indeed, I’m left wondering what the verdict would have been if instead of a railway crossing warning light and a passenger train, it had been a Give Way sign, and a school bus.