Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Agencies pass buck in taking any blame

The Police Serious Crash Unit is, but it has been left to KiwiRail itself to investigate the accident's causes. Photo / Supplied
The Police Serious Crash Unit is, but it has been left to KiwiRail itself to investigate the accident's causes. Photo / Supplied

KiwiRail is taking all the blame forlast month's tragic accident at Morningside - yet the company is a state-owned enterprise required to operate as a successful business.

Every other agency that might be responsible is passing the buck.

The victim's mother rang the Government's health and safety inspectors, who are now part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The ministry said train accidents came under the Railways Act and referred her to the New Zealand Transport Agency.

Transport Agency spokesman Andy Knackstedt said Morningside Drive was a local road so it was Auckland Transport's responsibility.

Auckland Transport spokeswoman Sharon Hunter said Auckland Transport's responsibility stopped at the edge of the rail track.

"Where this incident happened it was in KiwiRail's remit."

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn said yesterday that the Transport Accident Investigation Commission was not investigating. The Police Serious Crash Unit is, but it has been left to KiwiRail itself to investigate the accident's causes. Its report is due by the end of this month.

It is an odd situation, given KiwiRail's requirement to make a profit. In the past year, it has cut about $200 million out of its planned investments over the next three years because it failed to meet its revenue targets, partly because of the Christchurch earthquake.

Desperate cost-cutting has pushed it into false economies when rail wagons bought cheaply from China needed extensive repairs and then 18,000 Peruvian sleepers turned out to be largely rotten.

Disability access adviser Vivian Naylor says the Morningside crossing before the accident was "a disgrace", showing "lack of awareness on the part of the maintenance people".

"I don't know where their barrier is between what they are supposed to do and what they are supposed to look out for. Or, are they more concerned about the track and making sure there is no derailing?" she asks.

Auckland Council transport committee chairman Mike Lee says the Morningside crossing was repaired for the Rugby World Cup in 2011, but was clearly "in a bad state of repair" by last month.

"People took their eye off the ball," he says. "When you are running rail corridors through a major city, there needs to be focus not just on the big things but on the little things as well."

He says the council cannot stand aloof. "If KiwiRail are not doing their job and are failing their obligations as the owner of the corridor, the council does need to step in, clearly, there's no question about that.

"Hopefully there is co-operation, and, hopefully, there is mutual reinforcing, each side assisting the other with its responsibilities. That would be helpful."

- NZ Herald

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