Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

One train driver, three fatal crashes

Robert Neale has hit three vehicles at level crossings, resulting in three deaths, in his nine years as a freight train driver.

All were the result of vehicles crossing tracks on rural roads without barriers, he said.

Rail Safety Week began today and Mr Neale hoped the message would get out to drivers to pay attention and obey stop signs.

In all fatal crashes, the vehicle drivers had been "daydreaming or away with the fairies" and gone through stop signs or a level crossing with bells and lights, the Auckland driver said.

"The first one's the hard one, but having said that, they don't actually get any easier, you just learn to deal with it- and if you don't deal with it, then you don't have a job."

The key to dealing with the crashes was to remember the train was supposed to be on the tracks and the motorist was not, Mr Neale said.

It was imperative for drivers, at crossings without barriers, to treat stop signs seriously, he said.

"It's not a 'stop if you feel like it' sign, or a 'stop only if there's a train coming' sign, it's a stop sign and you've got to stop."

Arming all crossings with barriers would possibly bring the toll down, Mr Neale said.

"But we see cars drive around barrier arms quite often - we'd see that probably once or twice a week through the Auckland suburban area.

"So the barrier arms are only going to stop those who want to obey the rules - those who want to flout them will do so anyway."

It was like playing Russian roulette, he said.

"You go through them often enough, suddenly there's going to be a loud bang and someone's got a big mess to clean up."

KiwiRail said it had repaired 50 barrier arms in Auckland this year after motorists tried to drive through them.

KiwiRail external relations general manager Deb Hume said the company was constantly assessing crossings around the country to see it they needed barrier arms but it was economically impractical to put barriers at all crossings.

"It's couple of hundred thousand dollars to put in lights and bells and it's another $90,000 on top of that ... to put in barrier arms."

National road policing manager Superintendent Carey Griffiths said there were two types of risks taken by motorists around trains - deliberately trying to beat a train and not paying attention, he said.

"Inattention is a really big killer and it's really hard to educate for as well."


* Collisions
- 2014 year to date: 15 collisions with five fatalities in four different crashes;
- 2013: 18 collisions with three fatalities;
- Trespassers: 2014 - five collisions, one fatal, four injuries; 65 near collisions.

* Crashes over the past 10 years
- 12 per cent at crossings with barriers, lights and bells;
- 37 per cent at crossings with lights and bells;
- 51 per cent at crossings with stop or give way signs.

* Reported near collisions
- 2009-2013: 573
- 2014 year to date: 71

- APNZ

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