Morningside train crossing slammed

By Matthew Theunissen


A disabled people's advocate is outraged it will take the near death of a wheelchair-bound woman before anything gets done to improve one of Auckland's busiest railway crossings.


The woman remains in a critical condition in Auckland Hospital after being hit by a freight train on the crossing in Morningside just after 9am yesterday.


Three people rushed to help when her electric wheelchair became stuck, but her chair was hit and she was dragged along the ground.


Disability strategic advisory group chair Huhana Hickey said the local community has been up in arms about the crossing for more than 10 years, yet nothing has been done.


"It's the busiest railway crossing, so they [Auckland Transport and Kiwirail] knew all this; they knew something would happen. Does it have to take the near death of this woman for anything to happen?"


The incident was indicative of wider problems with Auckland's public transport infrastructure which could be difficult and dangerous for disabled people, she said.


"People always take risks with railway tracks but what you have to do is minimise [danger] for those that don't want to take the risk, those who want to travel safely.


"Wheelchairs, prams, the elderly - people who can't jump over the railway - need to be able to cross and cross safely."


Dr Hickey said the Morningside crossing didn't come close to meeting any safety standards and it clearly needed an overpass.


"If you see it on the TV news last night it was in an appalling state. There's no way that I would be able to cross, and I have exactly the same wheelchair as what this poor girl has."


Dr Hickey said a friend of hers, who has since died, became stuck on the same railway crossing last year but she was able to get herself out.


She said Auckland Transport and Kiwirail needed to take joint responsibility for what had happened.


KiwiRail said the crossing was upgraded in 2011 but CCS Disability Action adviser Vivian Naylor said she would be very reluctant to negotiate it in her conventional wheelchair.


Albert-Eden Local Board member Graeme Easte said there was an urgent need for Auckland Transport to allocate a budget for the progressive grade separation of crossings throughout the Super City.


The organisation is understood to have been working for several months on a report ranking crossings in most serious need of separating roads from the railway.


Police and KiwiRail have launched an investigation into yesterday's incident.


Auckland Transport spokeswoman Sharon Hunter confirmed the organisation was responsible for pedestrian bridges over railway lines.


She said Auckland Transport was working closely with Kiwirail to determine what actions could be taken.


"I can assure you, at the highest level, that is happening."

- THE AUCKLANDER

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