Major errors by a train controller and confusing instructions about track work contributed to a near-collision between a freight train and crane in Auckland, a report has found.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) report into the November 2011 incident, released today, said a train controller in Wellington failed to block entry points into an area of track between Papakura and Westfield which was under maintenance.
All trains travelling north through this area of track were supposed to be switched to the southbound track because a mobile crane was blocking the way.
The report found the train controller made several errors contributing to the incident, including turning on red signals for trains exiting the area under maintenance instead of those entering it, and also switching the freight train heading through area to the closed track with the crane straddling it.
While the Auckland train driver was surprised about the change to his original route, he refrained from asking the controller about it because he thought the controller had the authority to change the travel plan.
However, when the train driver rounded the corner near Wiri Junction, he spotted the crane over the track and was forced to apply the brakes.
The train stopped 97 metres from the crane.
As a result of the incident, both the train driver and the controller were relieved of their duties while KiwiRail carried out its internal investigation.
According to the TAIC report, the train controller was unable to explain why he changed the freight train's route and his error in failing to block entry to the area of track where the crane was.
It also stated there had been "unauthorised visitors" in the control room with him when he could have been performing a final check of the train control diagram.
In addition to this, the TAIC found instructions given to both the train driver and the controller about the track area undergoing work had been confusing.
Since the incident, KiwiRail has updated its systems so train control diagrams showing where trains need to be re-routed to different tracks due to maintenance work, the report said.
TAIC also noted special bulletins given to relevant train staff outlining track areas under construction needed to be clearer, which KiwiRail advised they had begun to address.
The incident also highlighted problems between staff communication, TAIC said.