THE late night train crash which destroyed the southern gate at the Lydiard Street rail crossing was an accident waiting to happen, says a Ballarat Councillor who wants a permanent removal of the 135-year-old gates.
Councillor Daniel Moloney says he wants a "pragmatic solution" to the future of the gates, after what might have been a multiple-fatality incident on Saturday night when a train careered into the southern gate at 11.30pm.
Amazingly the most serious injury was to a man in his 40s who was taken to hospital in a stable condition with a knock to the head and back and neck soreness.
GALLERY: More pictures here
Three other people, the driver, the conductor and one other passenger were treated at the scene.
Cr Moloney said there had to be a point where safety overtook nostalgia.
"I want to see some preservation and an improvement of the whole intersection of side streets, entrances to car parks. It's quite a complex set-up down there," he said.
In the case of a boomgate, if there is a problem with the train, or the gate, and we don't know as yet what's caused this, but what we do know is a train won't hit a boomgate.Cr Daniel Moloney
"These gates were never designed to take the train traffic they are. The opening of Wendouree Station has multiplied the amount of trains going through there many times over.
"We're at a point where we are possibly sacrificing safety for nostalgia. We've got old technology and modern technology working together and that's when accidents occur.
"In the case of a boomgate, if there is a problem with the train, or the gate, and we don't know as yet what's caused this, but what we do know is a train won't hit a boomgate."
Cr Moloney said it was sad to see something from the past potentially disappear, but that society couldn't necessarily keep on making things less safe in the interest of history.
"The station has consistently failed in upgrades because of the nostalgia attached to it," he said.
But Councillor Moloney's calls will face opposition across the city with campaigners, including Councillor Samantha McIntosh calling for restoration.
"How very sad on heritage weekend to see something happen to something so important to our community," Cr McIntosh said.
"Let's hope there is a way to reassemble and restore as best we can.
"With anything in history, there is a way. Firstly we need to look at restoration, and if that's not possible, look at replication.
"I've been down to the site this morning and it's a very very sad thing to see. But through that, the people down there were so concerned about doing everything right and I have full confidence that the knowledge and understanding of history is there."
The impact from the crash sent debris flying, with some lodging in the beam of a nearby tower and another piece breaking a window at the adjacent Provincial Hotel. The train eventually came to rest about 600-700m down the track near Doveton Street.
Save Our Station president Gerald Jenzen said he was upset at the destruction.
"This is the oldest and only set that were hand operated left in the state," he said. "There was a lot of controversy about them, because originally they were set to be replaced with boomgates.
"They date from the turn of the 20th century or just before.
"By the look of what has been broken, it's not going to be easy to replace. The cast iron in particular will be very difficult to replace unless there are specific plans as you have to make a certain kind of mold to do. You just can't buy one in the shop."
The crossing was first constructed with the opening of the western line to Maryborough in 1873. While debate raged at the time as to whether the line should be constructed under Lydiard Street, it was eventually decided to build the line at street level with hand-operated gates.
In 1885, the crossing was upgraded with the introduction of the McKenzie and Holland interlocking system including the sector type level crossing gates. The signals gantries installed in the early 20th century were the largest surviving of their type.
Firstly we need to look at restoration, and if that's not possible, look at replication.Councillor Samantha McIntosh
The gates, along with the Kyneton gates of 1891 are the only two remaining of their type in Australia, however the Kyneton gates are not associated with a major station complex, leaving Ballarat the only operational station of the kind.
V/Line chief executive officer James Pinder said an investigation was ongoing as to the cause of the crash, with train fault not ruled out.
"This is a very serious incident for V/Line," Mr Pinder said. "An investigation has been initiated and we will know the cause of the incident in due course.
"The train was due to stop at Ballarat and for whatever reason the train did not stop and has collided with the level crossing gates.
"The train came to a stop I'm told some 600m beyond the level crossing."
Mr Pinder said it was too early to say how long train services would be affected from Wendouree, Ararat and Maryborough, but they would assisted until the crossing had been deemed safe.
Nearby Resident Jeremy Abetz said he was "half asleep at the time" but had heard a train coming by around 11.30pm.
"It did sound a little bit louder, than usual but, I thought it might have been a cargo train coming through which made the louder noise," he said.
Another resident, who asked not to be named, said he had lived in the area for a number of years, but this was the first type of incident involving the newer model VLocity trains he had seen.
"I knew straight away something had happened and I went down to check," he said. "It must have come down the hill at Warrenheip and not been able to stop.
"It's made an awful crash then within a split second the gate was gone."
Mr Jenzen said it was a sad day in Ballarat's history on what was Ballarat's Heritage Weekend.
"It's absolute shock and horror," he said. "It's an integral part of the railway station and the precinct."
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