Patrice Dougan

Patrice Dougan is a NZME. News Service reporter based in Auckland.

High-vis sting slows drivers

Officials at notorious level-crossing blackspot deter motorists from running barriers.

A swarm of hi-vis vests kept drivers in check during a sting at a level crossing in Auckland last night.

Not one car attempted to run the barriers at Walters Rd crossing in Takanini during rush hour, as about 10 KiwiRail officials, police and Maori wardens stood looking on.

The same couldn't be said an hour earlier, when New Zealand Herald staff observed several motorists putting their lives at risk by driving around the barriers when the arms were down and bells ringing.

The authorities were out in force as part of an operation to catch risk-taking motorists during Rail Safety Week.

The operation was usually more discreet, said Sergeant Andrew Heath, road policing team supervisor at Counties Manukau south police.

A plainclothes officer was usually stationed near the tracks and two patrol cars waited down the road for any offenders, including drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

Police have been staking out the "notorious" level crossing, and a number of others in the area, for the past three months, following two deaths late last year. The operation was extended to take in Rail Safety Week.

The crossing had been a blackspot, Mr Heath said, with KiwiRail capturing "shocking" footage of people ignoring the barriers and warning bells.

They caught about three to four people during every two-hour period.

"One person is too many, because one risky manoeuvre and you get hit. That's 200 tonnes travelling at 70 or 80km/h, it's not pretty," Mr Heath said.

"When the barriers are down, the lights are flashing and the bells are sounding, just wait, be patient. That minute or two that you're going to save by rushing through that intersection is not worth your life."

Several trains sped down the busy line during the hour-long sting, with KiwiRail's senior systems and standards adviser, Brendon Judd, saying there could be up to 40 trains during peak rush hour - 20 in each direction.

He said people commonly forgot another train could be coming in the opposite direction just after one train had passed, and that's when tragedies could happen.

A former train driver himself, Mr Judd said the effects of someone running a rail barrier could have devastating impacts on a driver's life, leaving many traumatised and some feeling they had no option but to quit.

Many felt hopeless and powerless because "you can't steer trains, they follow the rails ... [and] there's very little we can do [to stop]".

For more information on Rail Safety Week and upcoming events visit www.railsafety.co.nz.

- APNZ

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