Auckland, New Zealand: Urgent crossing safety recommendation from TAIC

27 Aug

New Zealand’s independent Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has posted an urgent safety recommendation following a fatality on an active level crossing close to West Auckland’s Morningside station on January 29th, 2015.

New PictureMorningside station is an island platform, with the usual track for southbound trains passing to the east of the platform and the usual track for northbound trains passing on the opposite west side of the platform. The Morningside Drive level crossing crosses both these tracks and a loop track close to the southern end of the platform. The level crossing is protected by flashing lights, bells and barrier arms, directed at road and pedestrian traffic following Morningside Drive.

At its southern end the station platform transforms into a pedestrian ramp leading down to a ‘T’ intersection with one of two pedestrian crossings for Morningside Drive. The bells for the Morningside Drive level crossing would be audible under usual circumstances to pedestrians walking down the ramp to join the pedestrian crossing. The flashing lights and barrier arms, however, are directed at vehicle drivers and pedestrians who are following Morningside Drive. The only visual cue to warn pedestrians walking down the ramp is a yellow sign warning them to ‘look for trains’.

At 18.40 on January 29th, 2015, a 24-year-old male alighted from a southbound train at Morningside station platform. The pedestrian walked alone along the platform to the eastern-end electronic ticket register, where he recorded the end of his journey at 18.41. He then walked down the pedestrian ramp to access the Morningside Drive pedestrian crossing.

The southbound train from which he had alighted was departing on the southbound track. It travelled over and moved clear of the Morningside Drive level crossing at 18.41:09. Twelve seconds later, a passenger train travelling in the opposite direction on the northbound track, arrived at the level crossing.

The pedestrian had walked to the end of the pedestrian ramp, during which time he was facing in the direction of the northbound train. He then turned right onto the pedestrian footpath and stepped out in front of the northbound train at 18.41:24. The train struck the pedestrian, who was fatally injured. The pedestrian’s movements were captured by the platform-mounted, closed-circuit television cameras.

The pedestrian was using a mobile phone to text while he was walking down the pedestrian ramp and he had bud-style earphones inserted in his ears, which were connected to his mobile phone.

Data recorders showed that the flashing lights, bells and barriers at the Morningside Drive level crossing were operating correctly and continuously for both train movements, and that the northbound train was being driven in accordance with rules and regulations.

TAIC has  addressed recommendations to the NZ Transport Agency, as the rail regulatory body, with notice of the recommendations issued to KiwiRail Limited, Auckland Transport and Transdev Auckland Limited.

Recommendation one

  • Safety issue – There are no active visual alarms or physical barriers to prevent pedestrians exiting the Morningside station platform inadvertently crossing the railway tracks at the Morningside Drive level crossing when trains are approaching.
  • The active warning lights, bells and barrier arms protecting the Morningside Drive level crossing are positioned to warn vehicle drivers and pedestrians on Morningside Drive. Pedestrians exiting Morningside station platform to the south have only a yellow sign reminding them to ‘look for trains’. The platform pedestrian egress can be used by a high number of passengers during peak periods. The station is one of the main egress points for passengers travelling by rail to special events at the nearby Eden Park facility.
  • There was one previous pedestrian fatality at the Morningside Drive level crossing during 2002. On April 8th, 2015 the driver of a northbound passenger train said that his train missed two pedestrians by about one metre at the same pedestrian intersection. Anecdotal information received by the Commission indicates that there are highly likely other similar near-miss incidents that have gone unreported. All of the reported incidents involved northbound trains at the same pedestrian crossing.
  • On July 30th, 2015 the TAIC recommended to the Chief Executive of the NZ Transport Agency that in the interests of passenger and pedestrian safety he liaise with the appropriate authorities to ensure that they address the safety issue whereby some form of active warning device or barrier is installed that will prevent pedestrians inadvertently stepping out in front of trains when entering or exiting the Morningside station platform. (010/15)
  • On August 14th, 2015 the Chief Executive of the NZ Transport Agency replied as follows:

KiwiRail and Auckland Transport are working on a solution to address the identified safety issues at the pedestrian level crossings at Morningside Station in West Auckland. The Transport Agency is actively monitoring this situation to ensure the resolution is implemented in an effective and timely manner.

We cannot yet provide a definitive timeframe for when these changes will be completed but give an undertaking to update the Commission once the next stages of this work have been determined by KiwiRail and Auckland Transport.

Recommendation two

  • Safety issue – The regulatory and operational aspects of the Auckland metropolitan rail system do not expressly deal with responsibility for safety and control at the boundaries between station platforms and the rail corridor.
  • Under the Railways Act 2005, KiwiRail is required to have a rail licence and an approved ‘safety case’ outlining its rail activities. KiwiRail has a resultant safety system that details how it will operate safely in accordance with its ‘safety case’.
  • Auckland Transport is the owner of the Auckland metropolitan passenger trains. Also, Auckland Transport leases the railway stations in the Auckland area from KiwiRail. Auckland Transport currently has an exemption from holding a rail licence, and consequently is not required to have a ‘safety case’ and resultant safety system.
  • The KiwiRail Safety Case and resultant safety system, including the deed of lease and access agreements for Morningside station, do not expressly deal with who is responsible for controlling and protecting pedestrians crossing the boundaries between railway stations and the rail corridor. Consequently the parties have been operating on differing understandings about their responsibilities in relation to this issue.
  • On July 30th, 2015 TAIC recommended to the Chief Executive of the NZ Transport Agency that from a regulatory perspective he take the necessary steps to ensure that the relevant Safety Case(s) and resultant safety system(s) (including any lease or access agreements made under those systems) expressly articulate which party or parties is responsible for controlling and protecting pedestrians as they cross the boundaries between railway stations and the rail corridor. (012/15)
  • On August 14th, 2015 the Chief Executive of the NZ Transport Agency replied as follows:While the Transport Agency gives the Commission an undertaking to implement this recommendation, we must first consider the statutory and regulatory options in which to do this. This will involve engaging with a number of relevant parties— a process that will take time. We will advise the Commission of our progress in due course.

Recommendation three

  • Safety issue – The level of protection for people using pedestrian rail crossings in the Auckland metropolitan rail network is unlikely to be adequate because the risk assessment process for pedestrian rail crossings is not keeping pace with the infrastructure changes and increasing patronage on the metropolitan passenger trains.
  • There are 52 level crossings in the Auckland metro network that can be used by pedestrians. These crossings are equipped with a mixture of active and passive warning devices. Records show that there were 13 other pedestrian accidents within the Auckland metro network and 5 accidents within the Wellington metro network between January 1st 2006 and January 30th, 2015.
  • In recent years the following changes have occurred in the Auckland metropolitan rail network:
    • most of the rail network has been multi-tracked
    • a bi-directional signalling system has been installed to allow trains to use tracks in either direction
    • more new electric multiple unit trains have been introduced
    • the frequency of passenger trains has increased
    • there has been a substantial increase in train patronage in Auckland (25% for Morningside station) and it is projected to increase further as passenger train services are increased.
  • Some of the changes listed above also apply to the Wellington metropolitan rail network.
  • The NZ Transport Agency and KiwiRail use the Australian Level Crossing Risk Model to assess the risk factors for road and pedestrian rail crossings in New Zealand. The default frequency for the assessment is every two years. The model considers 130 variables at all types of level crossing, including the five factors referred to above. The most recent assessment report for the Morningside Drive pedestrian crossing had been undertaken during January 2014, one year before this accident.
  • An example of how the changes to the rail infrastructure have potentially compromised pedestrian safety is with the design of existing pedestrian ‘mazes’ that have been constructed to force pedestrians to face in the direction of approaching trains before they turn and cross the tracks. With the ability for trains to be routed in either direction along bi-directional lines, trains could now potentially be approaching from behind pedestrians.
  • On July 30th, 2015 TAIC recommendsedthat the Chief Executive of the NZ Transport Agency liaise with the relevant road control authorities in Auckland and Wellington, and KiwiRail, to review all pedestrian rail crossings and ensure that they address the safety issue whereby they have a level of protection commensurate with the level of risk currently and in the immediate future. (013/15)
  • On August 14th, 2015 the Chief Executive of the NZ Transport Agency replied as follows:Throughout New Zealand, a wide range of level crossing-related activities and work is being undertaken by a variety of rail participants and agencies. This work encompasses level crossing infrastructure, planning, funding, risk review and risk mitigation.

    Consequently, the Agency is commencing a ‘stock-take‘ of this work and the parties responsible for it to give us a greater knowledge base about the solutions being developed and by whom. When this work is completed and the Transport Agency has a comprehensive picture of the scope of activities underway, it will be in a clearer position to provide the Commission with information about this recommendation.

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