Railway chiefs are being urged to make level crossing barriers act smarter by allowing road users over while trains are stopped at a nearby station.

An Auckland local board is calling for some barrier and warning bell/light times to be trimmed by about 30 seconds, to shrink unnecessarily long queues of cars and the related risk of driver "frustration" and bad behaviour.

The Albert-Eden board wants Auckland Transport and Kiwirail to investigate reducing the amount of time road users are restricted from passing over the Morningside Drive, Woodward Rd and Rossgrove Tce level crossings.

Auckland Transport referred Herald inquiries to KiwiRail, whose statement emphasised safety and indicated no change was likely, at least in the short term. Any changes could be made only after a "lengthy and complicated review", said the company's chief operating officer, Todd Moyle.


And a rail safety group, TrackSAFE, said people just needed to be patient, because the alarms and barriers were for the protection of motorists, pedestrians and train passengers.

Morningside Drive has been the site of a number of collisions with trains. In 2013, a woman suffered critical injuries after her wheelchair got stuck beside a rail track; the chair was struck by a train and she was dragged along the ground. In 2015 a young man whom an investigation indicated may have been "distracted by the use of his mobile phone" was fatally injured as he crossed at the pedestrian crossing.

The local board said that despite Auckland Transport's 10-year plan including $424.3 million to replace level crossings with overpasses, it was likely to take decades for all 45 level crossings to be converted.

Board member Graeme Easte said the settings for how early the warning signals and barriers were activated by trains were in some cases "overly cautious", adding "at least 30 unnecessary seconds".

Reporting average measurements with six-car electric trains, he said that at Morningside Drive, the warning signal cycle started eight seconds before east-bound trains stopped at the nearby station with their nose 34m from the level crossing. The bells and lights started about four seconds before the barrier arms began to descend.

"The trains then sit stationary for about 47 seconds - varying from 35 seconds up to a minute depending on numbers of passengers, etc. - before starting to leave, very slowly at first, entering the level crossing about 65 seconds after the bells first started.

"The cycle ends with the half-arm barriers again vertical 95 seconds after the cycle began."

This was on average 34 seconds longer than for west-bound trains, which passed over the level crossing at relatively high speed before entering the station.


On Easte's reckoning, the trigger point for east-bound trains could be delayed by 30 seconds and still 23 seconds would elapse between the barrier arms being fully down and the train entering the crossing - "exactly the same safety margin as for out-bound trains".

Easte said time savings could also be made at Rossgrove Tce with east-bound trains and at Woodard Rd with those travelling west.

Graeme Easte believes railway level crossing delays for road users can be reduced safely in Mt Albert and Morningside. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Graeme Easte believes railway level crossing delays for road users can be reduced safely in Mt Albert and Morningside. Photo / Brett Phibbs

In a board report, Easte said people had complained about long delays and queues at some level crossings.

"Prolonged down-time of the level crossing half-arm barriers causes long traffic queues that may involve dozens of vehicles and stretch for hundreds of metres.

"Overly long delays at level crossings is clearly an inefficient use of road-users' time and clearly causes considerable frustration that may impact negatively on driver behaviour and tolerance of other road users."

But KiwiRail's Moyle said: "We understand the frustration with delays for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians at some level crossings in Auckland, particularly those such as Morningside which are close to stations, and are always open to suggestions for improvement.

"However, safety is paramount.

"The railway operates as a system which balances operational performance - on both road and rail - and risk. Modifying one element, such as the timings at level crossings will have a knock on effect across the whole system.

"The timings for level crossings adjacent to stations on the Western Line are currently operating as per our standards and as designed.

"Before any changes could be made there would need to be a review of the design for the Western Line against the history of operation to see if further improvement is possible, including whether there are alternative options which reduce the road-closure time without increasing risk.

"This review would be both lengthy and complicated.

"Signalling systems are safety critical and any modifications would need to go through rigorous validation and checking processes before being implemented."