A national campaign has begun urging pedestrians and drivers to take extra care at railway crossings to prevent avoidable deaths.

Former international test cricketer Chris Cairns launched Rail Safety Week in Wellington today, with with the message "use your brain, tracks are for trains".

Cairns became a rail safety campaigner after his sister Louise died in 1993 when a truck drove into a train she was travelling on.

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn said trespassing, which can include include taking shortcuts across tracks, using tracks as a footpath between stations and loitering around railway property, was the leading cause of rail-related deaths.


This year nine people have died in trespass-related incidents, a further three have died at pedestrian crossings, one person has died in a collision with a motor vehicle and several others have been critically injured in a grim string of incidents.

"Every single death or injury on the railway network is avoidable if people approaching it actively recognise the hazards that exist and obey the warning signs and signals," said Mr Quinn.

Cairns also urged people to avoid using using mobile devices at crossings which could distract attention.

"Trains, especially passenger trains, are very quiet and when people have the added distraction of either music in their ears, or someone speaking to them on a cell phone, then the risk of being hit by a train increases," he said.

The safety message was just as valid for motorists, said AA spokesperson Dylan Thomsen.

About half of the country's 1400 level crossings have some electronic warning systems such as flashing lights, bells or barrier arms but there are still about 26 crashes a year between cars and trains.

In the first half of this year there have been seven crashes between cars and trains, which was fewer than unusual.

But there had been 86 reported near collisions, showing "there are still far too many people taking huge risks", said Mr Thomsen.

"Crashes between cars and trains usually involved a driver either not seeing the train or trying to beat one across the tracks, and people needed to look carefully at crossings and be more patient," he said.

Rail Safety Week events will be held in Auckland, New Plymouth, Mt Maunganui, Tauranga, Levin, Greymouth, Westport and Ashburton.