Man killed by train had habit of walking on tracks

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Brent Lowe was found on tracks at about 6am the morning after he attended work drinks and went on to a tavern. PHOTO/FILE
Brent Lowe was found on tracks at about 6am the morning after he attended work drinks and went on to a tavern. PHOTO/FILE

A man who died after being struck by a train in Bunnythorpe did not commit suicide and had a habit of walking along train tracks, according to a coroner's report released today.

Brent Lowe, 25, died as a result of multiple injuries sustained after being struck by a KiwiRail train between 3am-4am of December 24 last year.

Coroner Tim Scott stated Mr Lowe had been drinking at an end-of-year work function for Gommans Contractors.

He was a mechanic who resided in Palmerston North and was due to finish work for the Christmas break.

The report states a sober driver was arranged and took people to various places later in the evening, including the Bunnythorpe Tavern.

"A group of workers including the boss Chris Gommans and Brent went to the Bunnythorpe Tavern and continued to drink there," the report reads.

Mr Lowe did not draw attention to himself throughout the night, but declined offers for a ride home. A toxicology report also revealed he had an alcohol reading of "approximately four-and-a-half times the legal drink driving limit".

At one point he told someone he had friends coming from town to pick him up.

Mr Lowe was recorded on CCTV footage leaving the tavern at 2.19am on December 24.

KiwiRail train driver Graham Fyfe told police he was heading south towards Palmerston North, passing another train at 4.45am. This train was driven by Graeme Archer, and pulled over so Mr Fyfe could proceed.

Mr Fyfe said he passed through Bunnythorpe at approximately 6am and as he came around a bend near Cleverley Junction, saw something lying on the track, which he initially thought was a dog.

He approached the site at 40km/h and realised the object was a deceased person. Mr Fyfe pulled the emergency switch and reported the incident to train control.

As a result, Mr Archer's train was stopped near Taihape. There was no evidence of a collision on the front of this train but, there was evidence of a fatality found between the engines.

Mr Archer told police when he drove through Palmerston North the night was clear but he'd seen what he thought was a bag of rubbish on the tracks.

The report says he later realised this form was a person, possibly curled up in a ball in the middle of the tracks.

Mr Archer did not activate his horn as there was "no indication this was a person".
Mr Lowe's father Allan told police his son used to live in Tokomaru and would often walk home along the railway tracks after drinking at the RSA.

He said it was not unusual for Mr Lowe to take long walks home and he believed this is what his son was doing when he was struck.

"Although an unusual thing to do Brent had some history of walking along railway tracks," Coroner Scott concluded. "I am satisfied prior to being struck Brent was in fact making his way back to Palmerston North."

KiwiRail senior harm investigator Brent Gillett told coroner Scott it was difficult to identify objects in a locomotive headlight. He also stated even if a driver saw a person, stopping in time would depend on the weight and speed of the train.

Mr Gillett said other trains had passed through that morning and none showed evidence of hitting a person.

Coroner Scott said, "I accept that [Mr Archer] did not realise he had hit a person... I further accept that even if he had identified a person and had tried to stop he would not have succeeded.

"To that extent sadly Brent's death - because he was the one struck by the train - was inevitable."

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