A man killed by a train near Papamoa this week may not have heard it coming because of head injuries suffered in a brutal assault 20 years ago.

Te Maia Rameka, 53, walked the stretch of railway every Tuesday from his home in Kairua Rd, off State Highway 2, to the shops at Papamoa to buy cigarettes and get cash from an ATM machine.

Mr Rameka's body was discovered by maintenance workers about 3.30pm on Tuesday but was believed to have been hit about 5am that day.

Nia Whinau said the family were shocked by the news of her uncle's death because he made the same journey every week and had always arrived home safe.

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"Every Tuesday he always walked down to the shop to buy his cigs. Ever since they started the new roadworks [to widen SH2] he's walked along the train track.

"That used to be his Tuesday ritual, walking to Papamoa," she said.

Ms Whinau said her uncle had walked the route as many as 100 times and had never reported difficulties in the past. He always left the house between 5am and 6am.

Tuesday was the day his benefit money would clear.

Mr Rameka was the victim of an unprovoked attack in Mount Maunganui that resulted in him needing surgery to repair his fractured skull. The attack was featured in a television documentary in November 1991.

His sister, Monica Fraser, said since the attack, he had been losing his hearing and she wondered if he had failed to hear the train.

"He's got a plate in his head. He was beaten up and left for dead at the Mount around 20 years ago. After the operation his hearing was deteriorating. He always had his TV up loud and he's say, 'Sister, I can't hear it'," she said.

The family, which has suffered a double blow with another member dying the day before Mr Rameka, said they had been told by police the freight train that hit Mr Rameka was an eastbound train from Mount Maunganui.

The accident was not reported at the time because the driver was unaware it had occurred.

Ms Whinau said her uncle was great with all the family children.

"He was good. All our kids call him Koko or Koro. He was really good with kids. But he could keep to himself for some time-out, too," she said.

His hobby around the house was his greenhouse, she said, and he could spend hours in there.

"He was a good hand, a good builder, he had green hands," she said.

Mr Rameka is survived by three children in Rotorua and Australia.