Auckland motorists are racing to beat train crossing warning signals, resulting in smashed barrier arms.

KiwiRail and Tracksafe NZ are warning drivers to take more care, as the number of vehicles hitting protective barrier arms at level crossings surges.

The number of incidents where protective barriers are damaged has risen by almost 300 per cent since 2012.

KiwiRail network service manager for the Auckland Metro rail network James Brailsford said incidents of this nature were dangerous.

"When a vehicle hits a barrier arm it means motorists have not made sure they had the space or the time to cross and fully exit the rail crossing."

Brailsford said the arms were critical safety devices, and each time motorists hit barriers, the real worry was the unknown damage to the safety systems designed to keep crossing users, motorists and trains separated.

"When the barrier arm is damaged, train speeds must reduce until a full safety inspection is carried out, and that means delays to commuter services."

Since 2012, 331 level crossing barrier arms have been hit by cars, vans, trucks and motorbikes across the busy metro area.

"That's 331 times where safety has been compromised."

Last year alone 114 incidents were recorded, and risk to the public is growing.

"Our concern is that more motorists think they can beat the warning signals and the train."

KiwiRail ensures that it recovers costs whenever possible to deter those who put the public at risk. In the past year, more than $250,000 has been sought from motorists involved in incidents with crossings.

Woodward Rd crossing in Mt Albert is the worst location for incidents, with 40 barrier arm strikes since 2012.

It's followed by Manuroa Rd in Takanini with 39 strikes and Metcalfe Rd in Ranui with 34 strikes.

Brailsford said the increasing population in Auckland and better reporting of the incidents by both the public and train drivers has had some impact on the rise in numbers.

Tracksafe foundation manager Megan Drayton said what the figures really show is that motorists are not getting the message.

"We cannot stress enough the importance of motorists having patience at level crossings."

Drayton stressed drivers should always obey the warning signs and make an effort to look in both directions for trains.

"Stay focused, keep the cross hatching clear and ensure there is space on the other side of the crossing for your vehicle before you cross," she said.

"Never overtake a vehicle that has stopped for a train or try to race a train over the crossing - trains are usually travelling faster than you think."

The figures have been released on International Level Crossing Awareness Day (ILCAD), where 40 countries raise awareness of the dangers of railway crossings.

In addition to the barrier arm damage, there have been 92 recorded near misses between vehicles and trains and 77 near misses with pedestrians.

"Every year there are hundreds of near collisions reported by train drivers. Research in New Zealand has shown that distraction, complacency and impatience are the key causes of level crossing collisions in our country."