Driver tells of narrow escape after digger hit by train (+photos)

A digger driver jumped for his life when his machine was hit by a freight train in Bay of Plenty yesterday.

Jonny Bird, 26, was operating his digger on a trench near Te Puna, 11km west of Tauranga, for underground phone lines in the area.

Mr Bird waited for one train to pass before getting the all-clear to get the digger on the track to begin work.

"We rung in and got clearance, as soon as the train went past we got up on the track, and were told we had 40 minutes. Then 15 minutes later the train came around," he told the Bay of Plenty Times.

"I tried to walk the digger away from the train, hoping it would stop but the train was coming too fast."

Mr Bird said he did not have long to think.

"It was pretty amazing, it just hit the digger, sparks were going everywhere, and it was pushing the digger like it was nothing.

"As I was running I saw the carriages start tipping ... and that was when I jumped clean off the bank and learned to fly."

The train smashed the digger off the tracks effortlessly, he said.

After about 20m the train came to a halt.

The train was carrying freight in containers from Tauranga to Auckland. A second locomotive on the train and one wagon derailed.

Mr Bird suffered only scrapes and bruises from his jump off the bank and was treated by St John Ambulance at the scene. He was feeling good about being alive, he said.

"I just about got squashed but I managed to save myself," he said.

"Stoked about life, it was ... scary at the time, I tell you that," Mr Bird said.

Ontrack public affairs manager Kevin Ramshaw said two separate investigations would be conducted by Ontrack and Toll Rail.

The Department of Labour is conducting a preliminary investigation.

- NZPA

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