His wife's scream was all that alerted an Auckland driver to an oncoming train.
Raj Anand says a rail crossing did not flash lights or lower a barrier arm before he crossed the tracks on Saturday night.
A KiwiRail spokeswoman acknowledged the incident would have been "distressing" but maintained the company's systems were operating according to its guidelines.
Anand told the Herald he and his wife, Seshli, were travelling to their Papakura home from work about 11.55pm on Saturday night.
He said he was driving slowly over the Crown Rd, Paerata, railway crossing because of cleaning chemicals in his van that he did not want to spill.
"The train was about 20m away, and if my wife had not screamed at me to rush through, it would have killed us."
Anand said he put his foot "right down to the metal" to get across the crossing in time.
"If I had panicked and frozen on the train tracks, I would not be here right now."
He said the lights and the barrier arm were not operating as he approached the crossing, and only activated once the train was already passing through. He said he contacted KiwiRail immediately, and was not satisfied with their response.
When approached by the Herald yesterday, a KiwiRail spokeswoman said the company understood the incident "would have been distressing" but was not going to make any changes to its processes as a result.
"Normal procedures were followed during a period of maintenance work on the line between Paerata and Papakura last night.
"Trains slow down to 10km/h when approaching level crossings when work is taking place as well sounding their horns.
"All drivers need to be aware that whenever they cross rail lines vigilance is required."
The statement was little comfort to Anand.
"It's a serious breach of health and safety and they are not acknowledging it.
"When a train hits a car, it is fatal," Anand said.