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Wednesday, May 12, 2021
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On the right track for Rail Safety Week

Canberra’s light rail service has been taking passengers for almost four months now.

While many Canberrans are still getting used to interacting with it as passengers, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, some basic education and training around rail safety could prove beneficial.

Rail Safety Week 2019 has come on line at the perfect time in 2019, and is here from 12 to 18 August, acting as a platform reminding everyone to be alert and vigilant near light rail.

The ACT Rail Safety Week ambassador is Vanessa Low, a German-born Australian track-and-field Paralympian. In June 2006, at 15 years of age, Vanessa was involved in a serious rail incident that left her a double leg amputee.

“I was on my way to see friends and waiting on the platform waiting for the train to arrive, which is very usual in Europe, you catch a connection basically every day,” she told Canberra Weekly.

“People were really excited to get on the train first and get a seat, so the crowd was really pushy and at the very last minute before the train arrived I got pushed and fell in front of the approaching train.”

Vanessa said the key to rail safety is being alert and aware when you’re in close proximity to the tracks.

“The light rail is a very new thing for Canberrans … and I think people are still adjusting to the difference it makes on the road.

“The biggest issues are people not being in the moment or focusing on the job at hand. They’re being distracted, and distraction is the biggest casualty on the road and I think it’s one of the biggest causes of casualty in the rail system.

“It may not necessarily have an effect just on you, but on other people. And in my case on my family, on my friends, and there were a lot of people who had their lives changed forever because of that one small second that you can’t take back,” she said.

After losing both legs as a result of a rail incident 13 years ago, Vanessa Low embarked on a successful athletics career, which included winning Gold in long jump and Silver in the T42 100m sprint while representing Germany at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio. Photo: Terry Cunningham. Shot on location at AIS Canberra.

Following her accident, Vanessa spent around six months in hospital, a couple of weeks in a coma and had severe injuries to not just her legs but the rest of her body, too.

“Being here today, being healthy and living a very full life, I’m very grateful,” she smiled.

“But in saying that, that accident could have been very easily prevented because it was literally for nothing; it was for people not paying attention and not being aware of the situation.”

Since recovering, Vanessa has embarked on a remarkably successful athletics career that she said was never planned on when she started training.

“The intention was to just get back into life, see what my potential is and see what I could get out of it … It shows the power of choice that we have, the power that nothing that ever happens to us really determines our story.

“For me it meant creating a very successful sporting career, and creating something I’m very proud of and look forward to showing off to my kids one day,” she said.

Vanessa won Gold in long jump and Silver in the T42 100m sprint while representing Germany at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio. She gained Australian nationality in June 2017.

Canberra has so far seen a few near misses, a vehicle collision, and a serious accident involving a pedestrian on Monday 12 August, at the start of Rail Safety Week; all of which serve as reminders that it’s everyone’s duty to be alert and aware of all potential hazards when in close proximity to light rail.

Rail Safety Week is an annual community awareness week held in Australia and New Zealand designed to engage the community in safe rail practices. Now in its fourteenth year, this TrackSAFE initiative aims to create a heightened awareness of the importance of rail safety.

For more information about staying safe, visit cmet.com.au

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