This is a guest post from Harriet.
Recently we have had Rail Safety Week, the aim was to increase awareness of level crossings and their danger. Unfortunately we have had many deaths and injuries, with countless more near misses over the last few years. When an incident happens on a level crossing so many lives change- from the person hit, to the person driving, as well as both’s families. The slogan was “Expect Trains” as “Trains can appear any train from either direction” this has been an important message especially due to the increase of trains on the western line from 8 trains per hour to 12 trains per hour, and the many level crossings going .
As an Avondale station user I have seen a few near misses under the following scenario. When the Westbound train is stoppedpeople cross assuming the level crossing is safe to cross, as they are watching the train, forgetting that within minutes, often 1-2, that the Citybound train is approaching the station at speed. All it will take is for the Citybound train to be a little early, or the Westbound to be late for that assumption to become an incident, which will highly likely result in the death of that person and traumatisation of the driver.
The Rail Safety campaign for me is interesting as I work in an industry which deals a lot with contractors. We are very conscious regarding HSEQ, so as someone who has a basic understanding in the area find the Government’s view interesting.
The new Health & Safety at Work Act 2015 has lead to a massive shift in our HSE law coming about due to the disaster at Pike River where 29 workers didn’t come home. In HSEQ the main issue is the controlling of hazards. There is a hierarchy of the effectiveness of these controls, these can be summed up as either Eliminating the Hazard or Minimisation of the Hazard however in more detail they are the below.
The campaign to educate people regarding level crossings as you can see is low on the hierarchy of controls, being an ‘Administrative Control’. In the workplace, this would be comparable to having a control for forklift hazards as telling employees to just “Expect Forklifts”. In the case of an incident, this level of control wold most likely not meet the duty set out in Section 36 of the act as not doing everything as is reasonably practicable.
Worksafe would probably ask: Why wasn’t there a radio control of persons informing forklift drivers of a person exiting/entering an area; walkway line marking creating safe zones for persons walking through? or why wasn’t technology used such as proximity beacon card which would inform a forklift driver if they were coming to close to someone walking through?
In the case of level crossings (if of course transport was ever held to the same standards :/) there are far superior controls that can be implemented. Engineering controls such as gates, safer rubber crossings which are harder than the wood to get stuck as the lady at Morningside was, as well as better lights and sounds to alert users could be used. Far more importantly, especially in urban areas with high levels of train movements, level crossings can be grade separated which eliminates the hazard completely.
Surely if the government was serious about the safety of people, it would seek to eliminate the hazards, or at the very least minimise them rather than just relying on administrative controls.
Across in the ditch in Melbourne this is exact thinking, in 2015 the Level Crossing Removal Authority was formed to remove 50 level crossings in 8 years with at least 20 by 2018.
The budget for this project is large, however when you look at it in detail it includes track upgrades, massive station upgrades as well as a 3 section totalling 8.2km elevated line. The argument for removing level crossings is safety, as well as travel time benefits to road, active mode users as well as rail users.
Back in Auckland we have 45 level crossings, with only one crossing scheduled to be removed before 2018 (Sarawia), and two more as part of or coinciding the CRL works (Porters Avenue and Normanby Road). Only 26 million is budgeted for level crossing removal between 2018-2025. The Onehunga level crossings were planned to be removed during the SMART project, however with the route now either being LRT or BRT no public plans that I know of exist for these crossings. One of the Glen Innes entrances could be removed tomorrow as a grade separated access exists for the northern end of the station.
Unfortunately these level crossings will more likely be removed after the CRL due to delays to traffic as a result of the increased CRL frequency, rather than for people’s safety, but I am very happy to be proven wrong.
I understand there is only so much Tracksafe can do as better solutions require Local and Central Government, the work is appreciated and the message still important.