Safety fears after rail closure

By Imran Ali & Kristin Edge -
3 comments
A truck and trailer unit rolled on State Highway 12, north of Dargaville, spilling logs down a bank. Photo/Michael Cunningham
A truck and trailer unit rolled on State Highway 12, north of Dargaville, spilling logs down a bank. Photo/Michael Cunningham

A rail lobby group fear the closure of a rail link between Kauri and Otiria will put more logging trucks on Northland roads and risk the lives of road users.

Save Our Rail Northland spokesman Alan Preston made the comment while reacting to the trains' last run yesterday morning and two logging truck crashes in Northland around the same time.

The first crash yesterday happened on State Highway 14 on Con's Hill, 2km east of Tangowahine Valley Rd intersection, just after 7am. Northland police Senior Constable John van Pomeren, of the commercial vehicle investigation unit, said he was rung by the truck operator and alerted to the crash.

The fully laden truck and trailer unit was travelling towards Whangarei when the trailer rolled over and spewed logs across the road.

"Con's Hill is a notorious spot for large truck rollovers," Mr van Pomeren said.

He said it was fortunate there were no other vehicles on the road as the logs crossed the other lane and came to rest against a bank.

The driver was uninjured and another truck was called to take the logs away.

Just as Mr van Pomeren was writing up his notes on the crash, another crash was reported involving a logging truck on State Highway 12, 4km north of the intersection of Babylon Coast Rd, about 9.43am. The driver was negotiating a moderate right-hand bend when the whole unit rolled off the road.

"The trailer had gone off the road and dragged the whole combination off the road and in the end the bank was too steep," he said.

The trailer ended upside down while the truck unit was on it's side and the driver managed to get away with no injuries. No other vehicles were involved but the truck blocked most of the road with only light vehicles being able to pass through until the scene was cleared.

Around the same time as emergency services were mopping up the second crash, a final rail delivery of timber was being unloaded at Northport.

The last train carting logs left Whangarei for Otiria about 5am and returned around mid-morning before offloading logs in Portland.

Operator KiwiRail said although the long train trip would be the last, the line was not closed and would be used again once it became commercially viable.

The only customer north of Kauri, the woodchip company Marusumi, was informed its contract would not be renewed after August because of poor commercial returns and "life-expired wagons".

From this month, Marusumi's logs will be hauled to its Portland mill by road.

Mr Preston said the cartage of more logs by road would risk public safety.

Save Our Rail Northland organised a petition in 2011 in support of the Government maintaining the North Auckland rail line.

The petition attracted 13,400 signatures.

"In the absence of trains, logging trucks going down full swing will come back empty so fuel efficiency will be an issue apart from the issue of public safety from more logging trucks on the road," Mr Preston said.

"My main concern is long-term viability of infrastructure and the degradation [of rail lines] that will occur through non-use," he said.

Statistically, he said trucks have been involved in a high number of fatalities and road accidents on our roads.

Another rail lobby group, Grow Northland Rail, estimates that hundreds of extra log trucks per week after the log train axing will increase danger on the roads.

"A rail link to NorthPort should be foremost in any thinking, rather than sticking to the same old-same old, which sees the perfect storm of trucks the people out Otaika Valley are having to deal with," spokesman Alby Barr said.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce had said the plan focused on initiatives that could be taken in the short- to medium-term. Rail was considered a longer-term option, but its viability depended on greatly increased freight demands and the effect of a new container terminal at Northport.

Mothballing of the northern section of the line, with access to large areas of pine forest, is another blow to plans to build a rail link between the Northland line and Northport.

Meanwhile, a commercial road freight industry leader has called on logging truck drivers in Northland to strictly drive to the conditions following the two logging truck crashes yesterday.

Ken Shirley, chief executive of Road Transport Forum, said it was extremely disappointing to hear of crashes in close proximity of each other yesterday which further raised public fury and he urged drivers to take more care on the region's challenging roads.

Since April, there's been at least 10 incidents in Northland involving logging truck rollovers or logs falling off. The largest number of crashes were in April and May when seven rollovers happened in slightly more than seven weeks.

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