City fast tracks rail safety

By Mathew Dearnaley

Auckland Transport to study options after Morningside wheelchair accident.

A passerby gets treated by ambulance staff after a wheelchair became jammed in tracks at the Morningside Station pedestrian crossing in February. Photo / Janna Dixon
A passerby gets treated by ambulance staff after a wheelchair became jammed in tracks at the Morningside Station pedestrian crossing in February. Photo / Janna Dixon

Auckland Transport - under fire for delays in acknowledging safety concerns about rail crossings - is about to begin a study into the costs and benefits of remedial projects.

The council organisation has been spurred into action by a near fatality on Morningside Drive on February 25, when a young disabled woman was hit by a freight train and seriously injured after her electric wheelchair jammed in railway tracks across the road.

It has been accused of previously failing to respond to a resolution which the Albert-Eden Local Board sent it more than two years ago, calling for the progressive separation of roads from railway lines at all level crossings around the region.

Although an investigations budget of $1.06 million in its long-term plan was previously not due to be drawn down until 2014-15, Auckland Council's transport committee has been told work is now scheduled to start "in the next few weeks".

Council transport strategy manager Kevin Wright said terms of reference had been prepared for "detailed studies to examine the system-wide costs and benefits of long-term solutions to remove conflict between traffic and trains at all 48 level crossings on the Auckland rail network".

Although KiwiRail was meanwhile exploring short-term solutions, improvements such as building bridges to "grade separate" road traffic from trains would need extra funding.

Some sites could cost anything from $20 million to $100 million to safeguard, and Auckland Transport would have to consult the Transport Agency - which allocates Government subsidies - in assessing projects against other priorities.

Although KiwiRail is responsible for the safety of level crossings, and is still investigating the near tragedy in Morningside, it says it is up to road controlling authorities such as Auckland Transport to make funding decisions about grade-separation projects.

The council committee has decided to support in principle a programme of grade-separating dangerous crossings "as soon as financially practical" in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Councillor Cathy Casey said in proposing the resolution that three of what Auckland Transport deemed to be the region's eight most dangerous crossings - including Morningside's - were in her Albert-Eden-Roskill ward and she was "totally unimpressed" by the organisation's actions so far.

"The resolutions that have gone from the [Albert-Eden] board to Auckland Transport are legion - they have been totally ignored until someone almost died."

Council principal transport planner Darren Davis said that although level-crossing accidents were relatively rare, the consequences were often very bad and risks would increase when faster and quieter electric trains started running next year, more frequently than the existing diesels, albeit with twice the braking power.

The only two recent grade separations were those created by New Lynn's $150 million railway trench.

The only new separation project on the books was at Sarawia St, which is close enough to the critical Newmarket railway junction for Auckland Transport to have allocated $6.2 million for a detour road or a bridge over the tracks, on which it is consulting the local community over the best option.

First in line

Auckland Transport's highest priorities for eliminating rail level-crossings (apart from Sarawia St, Newmarket, for which $6.2 million has been allocated for a bridge or detour road by 2015)

1. St Jude St, Avondale

2. Manuroa Rd, Takanini

3 = Morningside Drive

3 = Woodward Rd, Mt Albert

3 = Glenview Rd, Glen Eden

6. Normanby Rd, Mt Eden

7. Taka St, Takanini

8. Metcalfe Rd, Ranui

- NZ Herald

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