Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Train driver missed stop signal

File photo / APN
File photo / APN

The driver of a passenger train which nearly crashed into another train in Wellington last month failed to notice a stop signal because he was talking, a new report has found.

The finding was from one of two reports published by Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) today into two separate near-miss train incidents - both of which involved staff errors.

In the Wellington incident, which occurred on September 9, one of the trains involved had 24 passengers on board.

The train was travelling from Johnsonville to Wellington, when the driver failed to stop at a red signal after the Crofton Downs station.

While he saw a yellow light at an earlier signal - which alerts drivers to expect a red light at the next signal - he had forgotten about it by that signal, the report found.

"He also acknowledged that the reason for his not noticing the red signal was his becoming engrossed in his conversation with the train manager,'' the report stated.

The actions of the driver of an empty train, which was travelling in the opposite direction, averted a potential "head-on or glancing collision'' where the risk of injury to passengers and crew would have been high.

When he noticed the passenger train had failed to stop, he broadcast an urgent radio message for the passenger train driver to stop.

As a result of the incident investigation, TAIC recommended to KiwiRail to install "some form of protection'' at the signal point missed by the driver of the empty passenger train. It also recommended KiwiRail check all its staff were aware of rules forbidding "non-operational conversation'' with train drivers.

KiwiRail have taken on the recommendations, the report said.

The second incident report released today was over a near-miss near the Pukekohe Station Yard on November 28, 2011. The passenger train involved had 7 people on board. A crash between that train, and another one which was similar in appearance, almost resulted after a mix-up by a train controller.

TAIC found the controller, who had not eaten for 15 hours, had authorised for the second "unscheduled'' train to go through to the Crown Road Level crossing on its way to Pukekohe several minutes before the scheduled passenger train.

When the unscheduled train had passed over crossing, the controller mistook it for the passenger train after receiving a message about "a subby'' and gave permission for a track maintenance team to place two vehicles on the track.

The "subby'' message was actually referring to the unscheduled train, which meant the passenger train was yet to pass the level crossing - however there were now two vehicles on the track in its way.

A crash was avoided when the controller realised his error after seeing the passenger train on his mimic screen. "He alerted the person-in-charge'' who managed to get the two vehicles off the track in time.

Recommendations made by TAIC over the incident included KiwiRail addressing problems around train controllers making assumptions on the job. It also recommended the company have proper healthy and safety systems in place, ensuring controllers eat properly and regularly during their shift.


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