Chris Cairns was happy to spread a safety message among schoolchildren on a crowded Auckland train yesterday, but dismayed to see others walking blithely along a railway track at the end of their trip home to Avondale.
Students of St Peter's College in Epsom appeared well-schooled in rail safety etiquette, even before the international cricket star - whose sister Louise was killed when a truck hit a train in 1993 - handed out pamphlets for Australasian Rail Safety Awareness Week.
"It looks like suicide," said 12-year-old Brock Sutherland of a pamphlet depiction of a train bearing down on a youth walking along tracks with music earphones blanking out its warning horn.
Because St Peter's is close to the Boston Rd railway station in Mt Eden, and up to a third of its 1200 students travel by train, principal Kieran Fouhy said he and three other staff were rostered to supervise their safe boarding at the end of each school day.
But Cairns was dismayed after his train excursion to see students from other schools, their uniforms not readily identifiable, disappear on foot around a corner along the rail corridor as they headed home from the Avondale station. "Just looking at the station here, there is no easy access and people are pretty relaxed about public transport."
He said that would have to change as the rail system expanded to cope with the needs of people forced out of their cars by fuel prices.
Ontrack spokeswoman Jenni Austin acknowledged the relative inaccessibility of the Avondale station from the nearby town centre, given that passengers have to walk in the opposite direction up a steep ramp to avoid trespassing in the rail corridor.
That was one reason for a decision by her agency and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority to build a new station further west.
But she said a combination of education, engineering and enforcement was necessary to improve rail safety, and Ontrack would from next month hire security guards to issue notices at certain stations, warning offenders they risked a maximum fine of $10,000, or even death.
Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven yesterday said there had already been seven rail-related deaths this year, and 86 since 2003.
Cairns was joined yesterday by Veolia train driver Charles Johnson, who speaks at schools in his off-duty hours after a woman "lurched" to her death in front of his train in South Auckland several years ago.