Concrete truck in near-miss with TranzAlpine express

Police are investigating a near-miss involving the TranzAlpine express tourist train and a concrete truck at a level crossing at Darfield, Mid Canterbury, this morning.

Rail network operator OnTrack lodged a complaint with police after the incident, 48km west of Christchurch, about 8.45am.

OnTrack network operations manager Carl Mills said the driver of the concrete truck drove up to the level crossing, noticing a coal train was stopped near the crossing.

"Level crossing bells and lights were operating and the driver obviously thought it was the stationary train that had activated them," Mr Mills said.

"He took this as licence to cross the tracks, seemingly unaware that the TranzAlpine express was approaching from the other direction."

He said the concrete truck made it through the crossing "only a matter of seconds" in front of the Greymouth-bound train.

"Concrete mixers are very heavy and we know from past experience that a collision could have been disastrous," Mr Mills said.

"We have reported the incident to the police and we will be urging them to take it as seriously as we do."

A collision between a concrete truck and the Southerner passenger train at Rolleston in 1993 cost the lives of three passengers, one of whom was former Black Caps fast bowler Chris Cairns' sister, Louise.

Cairns has since campaigned through the Chris Cairns Foundation for better safety at rail crossings and plans to raise the profile of rail safety by walking from Auckland to Rolleston in August.

OnTrack appealed today for transport operators to take extra care at level crossings.

"Heavy vehicle drivers should not make assumptions about whether trains are stopped or not," Mr Mills said.

"If the crossing alarms are activated, they must stop."

Constable Chris Caldwell, of Darfield, police told NZPA an investigation was under way.

Toll Rail spokesman Nigel Parry told NZPA the truck was close enough to the TranzAlpine for the train driver to note its registration number and the truck drove off without stopping after the incident.

"We're really disappointed about this," he said.

In March, a 46-year-old truck driver was killed at a level crossing at Orari, South Canterbury, when his cattle truck collided with a freight train, derailing the engine and a number of wagons and trapping the train driver in his cab.

"It's all about drivers being irresponsible at rail crossings and not obeying the rules of the road, and we really would rather they did," Mr Parry said.

- NZPA

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