Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Apology and payout from KiwiRail

The woman, still strapped in the wheelchair, was dragged five metres by the train. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The woman, still strapped in the wheelchair, was dragged five metres by the train. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The family of a young woman in a wheelchair who was hit by a train in Auckland in February have accepted a personal apology and a payout from KiwiRail.

The young woman's mother said KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn visited her personally to deliver a report, made public yesterday, which accepted responsibility for a series of failings that led to the degraded condition of the rail crossing at Morningside Drive where the young woman's wheelchair got stuck in the path of an oncoming train on February 25.

"He came, he brought it, he discussed it with me and apologised on the spot," the mother said last night.

"He offered [reparation]. He said, 'Here's the report, now let's talk about this.'

"I was quite overwhelmed, but relieved. Well and truly, it's move-on time, and from what could have been a catastrophe - and still my daughter has got a long way to go - it's looking more positive, I guess."

Her daughter, who has had cerebral palsy since infancy and is now 22, was saved from death by a young female jogger and a young commuter, Matthieu Mereau, who risked their lives to push her wheelchair almost out of the train's path.

The report says the cow catcher on the front of the train still hit the edge of the wheelchair and dragged it, with the young woman still strapped into it, five metres along the track before the train stopped.

Her injuries were horrific. She almost died in the first week and when the mother asked what she could do to help, a doctor said, "Pray."

She was badly concussed, her pelvis and two arm bones were fractured, part of her left foot had to be amputated and plates had to be put into her right hip and her left land.

She was in hospital until two and a half weeks ago, when she moved to a rehabilitation unit in Pt Chevalier.

But, although she will always have to live with her physical injuries, her mother said the effects on her brain now appeared to be "minimal".

"The doctors said, 'We are amazed with her progress,"' she said.

"She's back texting, emailing, wanting to get back to some of the things she did before."

The mother, who worked for the Accident Compensation Corporation for 20 years, said her top concern was always to get the extra support that her daughter would need, and the financial settlement "will make a significant difference to our daughter's rehabilitation".

Wheelchair accident: What went wrong

• KiwiRail stopped inspecting Auckland level crossings by jigger in 2009.

• A broken water pipe directly under the Morningside crossing caused the crossing to warp, but was not detected.

• Inspections by locomotive did not notice the damage.

• A track inspector checking other issues did report the damage last September, and again in December.

• His report was entered in the system without being assessed by the field engineer as required.

• Other work was done at the crossing over Christmas but the worker "was not equipped or resourced" to repair the warped surface.

• A note in the computer system that should have recorded only the work that was done actually said the whole job was completed.

• No one noticed that it wasn't completed until tragedy struck.

Source: KiwiRail report

- NZ Herald

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