A child's screams could be heard as a four-year-old girl was hit by a fast-braking train yesterday, and her 11-year-old sister was seriously injured leaping clear of the locomotive.
The two girls - who were with two others aged 10 and nine - were fishing off the rail bridge, which crosses a small stream running through Grimseys Reserve in Christchurch.
The injured girls have multiple injuries and were last night in a serious but stable condition in hospital after the accident yesterday afternoon.
They were unsupervised on the bridge - which has security fencing and warning signs - when the incident happened at about 3.50pm.
"The train driver observed them on the tracks some distance ahead and repeatedly sounded warnings, while activating emergency braking systems,'' said police in a statement last night.
"Three of the children were able to get clear of the tracks _ although a girl received injuries from her 6-7m leap to the ground below. Her 4-year-old sister remained on the tracks as the train approached, despite the efforts of another child to get her clear.
"The train driver's actions in braking clearly reduced the speed of the light locomotive, so that it came to rest only a matter of metres past where the children had been. That, and a significant amount of luck, were the primary reasons a tragedy appears to have been averted.''
Nearby residents said it was "an accident waiting to happen'' because there was no escape from the bridge once a train was coming.
Dawn Dorice was outside working in her garden when she heard the child's scream.
"It was the same time as the accident ... it was definitely a young girl's screech.''
Mrs Dorice said that when she saw several police cars drive up her street towards the reserve, she knew something bad had happened.
Another woman who lives on Willowview Drive said police told her the girls had climbed a high fence to get to the train tracks.
The fence had been erected about four years ago after a man was killed on the same section of tracks and a couple were almost hit by a train.
"I've been told the girls were playing down there - there's a stream there and a playground - when they got on to the tracks.''
The girls' distressed parents arrived at the scene and went with the girls in the ambulances that took them to hospital.
Glenis Everts said she was having a shower and heard the train stop - and she feared the worst.
"We usually know why [the train stops]. We used to live near a railway, and whenever it stops there was usually an accident. It just makes you feel sick especially when you hear it's kids.''
KiwiRail CEO Jim Quinn told RadioLive this morning that company services were helping the driver of the train.
He said people were hit by trains more often than he liked, as ideally there would be no injuries on rail lines every year.
"We'd just rather everybody stay as far away from the railway corridor as they can. I think people think the trains are noisy and they've got lots of time, and the fact is they don't.
"When I speak to my guys about these things, they often talk about seeing the terror in people's eyes, so our trains creep up on them and they've just got to stay away.''
He urged parents to keep their children away from the railway lines.
A Rail and Maritime Transport Union official said the driver would be traumatised.
"This is every locomotive engineer's nightmare,'' said South Island organiser John Kerr.
"A train can weigh up to 2000 to 3000 tonnes and be moving up to 100km/h, so you've got absolutely no chance of stopping if something goes out on the track.''