New Zealand: Concern at spike in near-miss incidents

5 Feb

KiwiRail, TrackSAFE NZ and the NZ Police are alarmed at a spate of near collisions between motorists and trains at level crossings around the country and are urging drivers to obey level crossing warnings and exercise patience at level crossings.

So far this year train drivers have reported 19 ‘near collision’ incidents at level crossings in which motorists ignored level crossing safety measures and crossed in front of approaching trains. 12 of these were at open active level crossings.

In four of these incidents motorists deliberately drove around other vehicles already stopped at the crossing in order to cross and in one the motorist had to swerve to avoid the train. In another incident a car ignored flashing lights and bells and passed just 10 metres in front of the train.

“We are horrified to think motorists would deliberately put themselves, and any passengers they may have in such grave danger,’ says KiwiRail Chief Executive Jim Quinn. “There is no journey so important that it can’t wait a couple of minutes.”

“Trains are large and heavy and can be travelling faster that they appear and simply cannot stop quickly. There is nothing our train drivers can do when confronted with a situation like this other than to sound their horn, and hope for the best. It is a very distressing situation for them.

“We urge motorists to heed the level crossing alarms, never enter a crossing if they can see a train approaching, but be patient and wait for it to pass.

National rail safety charity TrackSAFE NZ (formerly the Chris Cairns Foundation) also urges the New Zealand public to exercise caution at level crossings.

“Unfortunately if people continue to engage in the reckless and impatient behaviour that we have already seen this year, then it is only a matter of time before we potentially have another tragedy on the railway.”

Ms Drayton says the figures also show that a disproportionate 63% of these near collisions occurred in the South Island, with five out of the 19 occurring on the railway line between Rolleston and Greymouth, and four on the railway line between Christchurch and Invercargill.

“We urge motorists in the South Island particularly to obey the warning signs at crossings, and never take the risk of trying to beat a train across the crossing. Trains travel faster than people think and research has proven that we cannot accurately judge the speed of an approaching train,” she says.

Where train drivers are able to get the registration details of vehicles these are passed on to the Police to follow up on, and the motorist involved can be prosecuted for their actions.

Level crossing alarms and signs are there for the safety of motorists and it is a traffic offence to ignore them says Inspector Mark Stables of the NZ Police.

“All level crossings have some protection. Whether the crossing has flashing lights and bells or a Give Way or Stop sign, motorists should approach and behave at level crossings in the same way as they would a road intersection.”

In 2013 KiwiRail recorded 107 near collisions with vehicles at level crossings. 43% of these occurred at active open crossings and 40% at automatic half-barrier crossings. The remaining 16% of near collisions occurred at crossings with either a give way or stop sign.

In 2012 there were 154 near collisions reported by locomotive engineers. 83% of these were at crossings with active protection.

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