Two people have died and three others are injured following a crash between a car and a train in Pongakawa this morning.
Police released a statement this morning after the crash was reported to police on Pongakawa School Rd at 8.15am.
They have since confirmed two people have died and three others were seriously injured.
No children were involved.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board spokesman confirmed it was treating two of the three injured in the crash.
A 29-year-old, male, from Tauranga in a critical condition and a 27-year-old, male, from Tauranga in a serious condition.
It was understood the third patient was flown to Waikato Hospital by helicopter.
The Waikato District Health Board have confirmed this patient was critical.
Police said the Serious Crash Unit would examine the scene and an investigation into the circumstances of the crash was underway.
Diversions were still in place at Pongakawa Station Rd through to Old Coach Rd and motorists were asked to avoid the area.
BP barista Taylah Awhimate said one of their regulars walked in grey and unable to speak – his partner said he had pulled the people from the car.
But this morning the usually "chirpy and happy . . . he looked sick," she said.
She said the usual vibe of the town residents, who all know each other, was sombre with everyone hoping it was not someone they knew.
She said while she did not hear anything, "apparently it was really loud," she said.
Awhimate's co-worker, Arden Kinghan, said the tracks were notorious with no mechanical arms to come down to stop drivers crossing the track.
"This is a very dangerous area . . . we're unfortunately quite used to this kind of stuff happening here," he said of other crashes on the tracks.
He said the train driver was aware of the dangers and would always honk well before the intersecting roads to let people know he was coming.
And today was no different, he said, and they heard the train's usual honk.
"If you're not a local, you don't know to check for trains," he said.
A woman who lived near the crossing said she was "just in shock".
She said her neighbour saw the crash happen, with the car being thrown into the warning lights.
Pongakawa School principal Craig Haggo confirmed none of his students, staff or their immediate families were connected to the crash.
Haggo said while he did not know all the circumstances of the crash, local residents had for been lobbying for barrier arms to be installed at this crossing.
"Any loss of life is tragic and someone's family is going through a lot of pain and hurt right now, and our thoughts and prayers are with them," Haggo said.
A man working near the Pongakawa School Rd cordon said he did not see the crash but described it as "horribly sad".
The man, who asked not to be named, said all motorists needed to be careful at any rail crossing, whether they had barrier arms or not.
Western Bay of Plenty Councillor Kevin Marsh said it was absolutely tragic, but he was thankful it was not a young life from the local school.
"Fortunately it wasn't a mum and her daughter on their way to school.
"I saw the car, it was horrendous. Hit right in the middle. It needs barriers, there are no two ways about it," Cr Marsh said.
KiwiRail confirmed its freight train was involved in the crash.
KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller said it was unfortunate to hear of the fatalities involved in the crash.
"This is a tragic incident. Our thoughts are with all those involved and their families."
He said KiwiRail staff were on the scene to assist police and emergency services.
The train was travelling from Mount Maunganui to Kawerau.
"The crossing has lights and bells...the line will remain closed until clearance is received from the police," Miller said.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand northern fire communications shift manager Scott Osmond had confirmed there were five people in the car.
He said of those five people, four were initially trapped - two dead and two in a critical condition.
A local witness said a helicopter had landed at the scene and the road was blocked off.
A St John spokeswoman said two helicopters were initially sent but one was turned back.
Three ambulances and one rapid response unit were also at the scene.
Warning signs were displayed on the Tauranga Eastern Link informing motorists of the closure of State Highway 2 at Pongakawa due to the accident.
A reporter at the scene confirmed there was a police diversion at the intersection of Te Puke highway and Maniatutu Rd and another at the intersection of Pongakawa School Rd and Old Coach Rd.
Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber said it was a tragedy for the families.
"On top of what happened on the Kaimais [on Monday] - this is not a record I am proud to be a part of."
He said the council's staff were looking into the circumstances of the intersection.
He said the first priority today was the families, but the next priority would be to look into what happened and "what can be done to prevent it from happening again".
The Bay of Plenty Times has sought comment from the council about any lobbying from residents for barrier arms at the crossing.
The most recent serious train crash in the area happened in April on Duncan Ln in Pukehina.
A 9-year-old girl was critically injured when the car she was travelling in was hit by a train.
The impact of the collision flipped the car down into a ditch.