A multi-vehicle accident involving a KiwiRail locomotive resulted in Tararua District mayor Tracey Collis being cut from a car carrying a P lab.

The emergency exercise at Oringi, south of Dannevirke on Sunday, was one of the biggest of its type in New Zealand, said organiser James Kendrick, a volunteer firefighter and national chairman of Maori advisory for St John.

"This has taken five months to set up and is beneficial to everyone and it has been a massive coup to get the train from KiwiRail."

The exercise, involving 70 victims in two cars and a bus in a collision with the train, was about collaboration and making it happen, iwi representative Morrie Black said.

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"This was a little idea Jimmy [James Kendrick] thought about when we were working with KiwiRail on the Ngapaeruru rail bridge and the idea just got bigger and bigger," he said.

With fire brigades from Dannevirke, Norsewood and Ormondville, along with the FENZ command vehicle from Hawke's Bay, personnel from St John from throughout the region and the Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter taking part, the exercise was "bigger than Ben Hur", participants said.

"We are using the scenario as a training opportunity, for our rail incident controllers, (RIC)," Jeff Tremain, KiwiRail's zero harm adviser, said.

"We do exercises throughout the country for RIC, including tunnel and terminal scenarios."

Mr Tremain met with Mr Kendrick three times over the past month to identify risks and hazards associated with such a major exercise.

"That's why we arranged with Higgins, through the NZTA, to reduce speed on the adjacent State Highway 2," he said. "They have effective controls in place, including closing a passing lane for motorists safety."

For Mr Kendrick, the exercise had taken a lot to put together.

"My stress will be over when the day is over," he said. "But something like this never goes as you think."

Terence Ahern, the Norsewood fire chief, operations manager for the exercise, said the event had been a real learning curve.

"Knowing how all the systems work has been crucial," he said.

And while this was just an exercise, everyone involved were reminded next time it could be real.

* More in Saturday's Dannevirke News.