This week is rail safety week – the week people are once again reminded not to do stupid stuff like cross the tracks when a train is coming. Sadly the need for it was highlighted once again last week after a man died after being hit by train at Walters Rd in Takanini. I believe it is the fifth death on the rail network in Auckland this year alone with other incidents occurring at Morningside, Orakei, Papatoetoe and Puhinui.
Rail Safety will be in the spotlight in August during Rail Safety Week in the Australasian-wide initiative to raise awareness about rail safety and encourage safe behaviour around trains and tracks. KiwiRail and TrackSAFE NZ are proud to support the week which runs from 10-16 August.
Every year there are hundreds of near misses between vehicles and trains – and every one of those is, in reality, a ‘near hit’. If you’d like to get involved you can find out more at http://www.tracksafe.co.nz/media/rail-safety-week
Rail Safety Week is an annual Australasian campaign which aims to increase awareness of the need for people to take care around the rail network. This is the 9th year the campaign has been run in New Zealand. Each year a number of stakeholder organisations come together to promote the key messages to target audiences and ensure the event is a success.
It aims to improve awareness of the need to be safe around the rail network, and what safe behaviour is. While Rail Safety Week is held from 10-16 August 2015, the goal is ongoing safer behaviour around the rail network.
This year’s key message is ‘Expect trains’. It aims to address complacency and distraction which are known factors that contribute to unsafe behaviour around the rail corridor. It will encourage people to stay alert around the rail network, whether at a station or a level crossing.
The chart below shows the number of casualties at level crossings or other places where people are on the tracks across the entire country for the 10 years to the end of 2014.
While it will be difficult to prevent every single incident, the one area we can easily target for improvement is at level crossings. Looking just at Auckland, within the electrified area there are around 45 crossings in total, 31 road/pedestrian crossings and 14 pedestrian only crossings – although some of these have multiple legs, for example at Papatoetoe. As you can see on the map below the majority are on the Western line with the rest are primarily along the short Onehunga Line with another cluster around Takanini.
As well as being a safety issue, crossings cause disruption for road users including creating localised congestion and while trains have priority through crossings, the extra signals and procedures needed for safety can impact on train operations. What’s more, the number of trains operated on the network is only going to increase in the future, initially as a result of electrification and later from the City Rail Link. As such removing level crossings has the ability to improve a number of areas in the transport network. So what’s happening with level crossings?
Auckland Transport have developed an evaluation criteria based on the approach Melbourne is using and with input from the NZTA, Kiwirail, Transdev and the Council. The have used this to assess all level crossings within the electrified area to determine the priority for removal or grade separation. This criteria includes looking at aspects such as how long the barriers will be down and safety risks. The highest priority crossing is Sarawia St which is the crossing that has the highest number of train movements through it in the country – more on that below. AT say that a number of crossings close together will need to be dealt with as packages. As such the crossings with high priority are:
- Southern NIMT – Walters Road, Manuroa Road, Taka Street, Spartan Road
- Western Line – Normanby Road, Porters Ave (within CRL footprint)
- Western Line – Morningside Drive
- Western Line – Woodward Road
- Western Line – St Jude Street, Chalmers Street, St Georges Road
- Western Line – Glenview Road
- Western Line – Bruce McLaren
As far as I’m aware this isn’t in any particular order and AT say more work is needed on each of them such as traffic modelling, design and costing as well as business cases. They also won’t say just what option – removal or grade separation – they’ve selected for each crossing as some will require property purchases – the extent of which won’t be known until more design work is done.
As an example of the work that’s already happened the table below shows the impact on some of the crossings from the proposed train frequencies with electrification. The western line crossings obviously assume having 10 trains an hour however it’s not clear just when that will happen yet – if at all. As you can see many of the crossings will end up being closed for more than 20% of the time with Sarawia St up to 62% of the time. The reason some crossings on the same line have different figures is because this takes into account not just frequency but also the service pattern. That’s because at some crossings the timetable means the trains will pass through in each direction at about the same time which can reduce the amount of time the barriers are down while at other crossings this won’t happen.
The one crossing that is being working on right now is Sarawia St – or the Newmarket Level Crossing as AT call it. There AT plan to build a bridge to connect Laxon Terrace with Cowie St. In the last board report, it said staff are looking to get approval from the board this month to lodge a notice of requirement for the project. This is likely to be fiercely opposed by some of the Cowie St residents who don’t like the idea.
AT’s proposal is for a two lane bridge that is narrowed via chicanes to keep speeds low
Outside of Newmarket there is nothing in council or AT plans for at least the next three years. After that the council’s Long Term Plan does list $26 million to improve crossings in the seven years after 2018 – although with most grade separated crossings likely to cost $5-$20 million that budget won’t go very far.