A woman whose vehicle was struck by a train at an Auckland level crossing yesterday was rushing to the airport, a witness says.
The 49-year-old is understood to have turned out of Health and Sports Fitness Club, at 2 Morningside Drive, into the path of a commuter train shortly before 4.30pm.
She remains in Auckland City Hospital in a stable condition.
A spokeswoman for the gym said the woman appeared to be in a rush when she left, and planned to drop someone at the airport after her workout.
The gym is next to the western line, and vehicles turning right out of its driveway immediately hit the yellow markings indicating the level crossing.
Barrier arms on either side of the tracks do not cross both lanes, to avoid the risk of cars getting trapped.
"A train going into town was stopped at Morningside station," the gym spokeswoman said.
She said the woman may have thought the bells, signal and barrier arm had been activated by the stationary, city-bound train.
But her small blue vehicle was hit from the right hand side by a west-bound train.
"It sounded its horn and the bells were going," the spokeswoman said.
"Then I heard a bang."
In the aftermath of the incident, a Herald reporter at the scene said it appeared the car had been on the tracks in an area marked by yellow lines when the train hit it "dead centre".
The blue hatchback then spun off the tracks and its airbags deployed, she said.
"I didn't think she was going to survive," another witness said.
The driver was freed from the car by fire crews and rushed to hospital in a serious condition.
A spokesman for KiwiRail, the company responsible for maintenance of the level crossing, said a routine inspection was carried out at Morningside Drive on Wednesday - the day before the incident - and the bells were fully operational.
"Our records show they were also fully operational at the time of the accident," he said.
The crossing also has lights and barrier arms that block the oncoming lane at either side of the crossing.
"KiwiRail recognises that incidents such as these are traumatic for all those involved.
"It has procedures in place, including providing counselling, for its staff who are involved in similar incidents," he said.
A spokeswoman for TransDev, the company that employs drivers on Auckland's commuter trains, declined .
But rail safety foundation TrackSAFE's manager Megan Drayton, who had spoken to drivers involved in vehicle-train collisions, said many were severely traumatised and felt a sense of powerlessness when collisions occurred.
"They can't really do anything to avoid it," she said.
The amount of time it took a driver to stop depended on the size of the train, she said.
But once the emergency brake was pulled, a fully laden freight train could travel for up to a kilometre - the length of 10 rugby fields - before stopping.
She said after incidents, KiwiRail drivers were given mandatory leave, but she was unsure if TransDev had the same policy.
Drayton said the Morningside crossing was one of the country's most dangerous - partly due to it having three sets of railway tracks.
In January last year, Tejas Patel, 24, was killed when he was struck by a train at the crossing.
He was using his cellphone at the time.
After the accident, Kiwirail upgraded the crossing, adding lights and barrier gates for pedestrians.