Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Train victim's mother wants reparation

The mother of a young woman who was hit by a train when her wheelchair got stuck at an Auckland railway crossing last month says people are culpable for the tragedy and should pay reparation.

The young woman, 22, had moved into her own flat for the first time the night before and was trying to catch a train to her volunteer job in Greenlane.

Her electric wheelchair got stuck in the crossing and she could not call for help because she had been deaf and unable to speak since childhood.

Two passersby rushed to her help as a freight train sped towards her, but could not free the wheelchair and had to tip it over roughly.

They saved the young woman's life, but she suffered horrific injuries when the train hit the edge of the wheelchair, dragging her along the track until the driver could stop.

She has had part of one foot amputated. Metal plates have been put in her hip and in one hand.

Her pelvis, upper right arm bone and left elbow were fractured.

In the first week after the February 25 accident, she almost died.

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn told Auckland Council's Disability Strategic Advisory Group yesterday that the paving at the Morningside Drive rail crossing where the accident occurred was "not in the shape that we would like to require".

A photo taken on the day by disability access adviser Vivian Naylor shows asphalt misshapen into lumps between wooden boards placed alongside the railway lines.

"I wouldn't cross there," Mrs Naylor said. "It would have scared me to have been crossing there."

But the victim's mother is angry that several wheelchair users said after the accident that they would not have crossed there, yet nothing had been done about it.

"Supposedly all these people knew there was a problem and, excuse my language, but nobody had the balls to do anything about it," she said.

A former Auckland president of the Disabled Persons Assembly, Sacha Dylan, said he had lobbied KiwiRail since 2006 to install rubber paving at rail crossings because asphalt invariably decayed with the heat and vibration of passing trains.

"This was an utterly preventable tragedy and as far as I'm concerned KiwiRail is liable," he said.

"My first reaction is that a health and safety prosecution would not be out of place."

The Police Serious Crash Unit is investigating, but the mother said government health and safety officials referred her to the NZ Transport Agency.

The Transport Agency said it was Auckland Transport's responsibility. But Auckland Transport spokeswoman Sharon Hunter said Auckland Transport's role stopped at the edge of the rail track.

"Where this incident happened it was in KiwiRail's remit," she said.

Mr Quinn said KiwiRail would release its own report into the accident just before or just after Easter.

The victim's mother, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her daughter's privacy, said she believed that "people are culpable for not doing anything about this".

"I firmly believe this is a case where there has to be some form of reparation," she said.

"I want to make sure that my daughter's interests are looked after. My whole objective is to get her back to where she was."

The mother, who worked for the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) for 20 years, said she expected her daughter would get compensation from ACC, but that would not be enough to pay for things such as the speech therapy the family had paid for over many years to help her gain the degree of independence she had before the accident.

"I want the best for my daughter, whatever that is," the mother said.

"But I don't want this to be my daughter's, or my, defining thing in life," she added. "Much as I am angry, this has to be the catalyst for some positive change."

Victim's injuries

*Fractured pelvis
*Fractured right humerus (upper arm bone)
*Fractured left elbow
*Part of left foot amputated
*Plate in her right femur (hip bone)
*Plate in her left hand
*Concussion

Morningside station level


Read more:

Agencies pass buck in taking any blame
Knocked over on hard road to independence

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