Cairns sets off for the south with plenty of encouragement

By James Ihaka

It's a long way from northern India to a chilly State Highway 1 south of Auckland.

Cricketer Chris Cairns, who on Monday began an epic hike to promote rail safety awareness, is instantly recognised by dozens of motorists. Nearly all wave and toot their support.

It's comforting for Cairns, who talked to the Herald between Pokeno and Huntly and about 30km into what could be a rough 34-day, 1001km trek.

"It's great being back here, you wouldn't be able to do this in India, no way mate, there'd be about a million people around you," he said.

The 38-year-old, who now lives in Dubai but makes the three-hour journey to the subcontinent for his matches in the Indian Cricket League, will finish his journey at Rolleston in the South Island, where his sister Louise was killed in 1993.

Louise Cairns was 19 and a passenger on a train which was hit by a concrete truck.

Two other women died.

The truck driver was found guilty of careless driving causing death and injury and was sentenced to 200 hours of community service and banned from driving for 15 months.

Since then more than 100 people have died at level crossings, including 86 in the past five years.

Cairns, who has reportedly separated from his South African wife Carin, said he'd only recently felt able to contribute in some way to his sister's memory. He set up the Chris Cairns Foundation in 2006 and the message seems to be getting through.

He said in the years since the foundation was started the fatality rate had reduced. "But you've got to ask yourself what's acceptable with regards to the numbers and it has to be zero."

Cairns has also got train drivers on board with the campaign, some of whom have been involved in level-crossing accidents.

"People need to understand that these guys are everyday Kiwi blokes who drive trains ... imagine stopping a train a kilometre up the line after smashing through a car and running back to see what's going on ."

While he doesn't miss playing top level cricket "at all" he never saw himself playing "until I was 40" when his contract runs out in 2010.

He is expected to finish his walk on September 21 before returning to his Lions team in October.

* Track Chris Cairns' progress.

- NZ Herald

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