It’s rail safety week – and as part of their latest safety campaign, Kiwirail have highlighted just how many collisions and near misses there are:
In the year to 30 June, 40 vehicles or people collided with trains across the national rail network and there were 305 near misses.
At public level crossings alone, there were 11 collisions and 192 near misses. Near misses at level crossings have steadily increased since a low of 150 in 2021. All of the collisions at level crossings and 77 per cent of near misses were at crossings that already have active protection.
“Collisions with trains are unforgiving. The average freight train weighs well over 1,000 tonnes and cannot swerve to avoid a person or vehicle or stop quickly. Our locomotive engineers can blow the horn and put on the emergency brakes, but there is often little else they can do,” KiwiRail Chief Executive Peter Reidy says.
“Sadly, 10 people lost their lives in collisions with trains over the past year. At the same time, it’s very worrying to see near misses at level crossings continue to rise. One second more and a near miss could be a collision – resulting in serious injury or death. People just can’t afford to take that risk.
“It’s also deeply troubling to see that all of the collisions and close to 80 per cent of near misses at level crossings were at crossings that already have flashing lights, bells or barrier arms.
“It’s so important that all of us are cautious and vigilant any time we approach a rail level crossing. For this year’s Rail Safety Week campaign, we’re promoting a simple behaviour that will keep people safe – taking a proper look in either direction, a ‘steely stare’ and not just a fleeting glance, when you approach a level crossing.”
They’ve also broken these numbers down by region and the type of incident. There are two sets of numbers, one just for public level crossings and one for the entire rail network.
Where were there collisions with six heavy road vehicles in Auckland? Given they’re not at public level crossings, I’m assuming they’re at the port or in freight depots.
Tied to this is why Kiwirail are calling for level crossings to be closed.
The high number of crossings across New Zealand’s rail network is creating unnecessary risk, according to KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy.
Reidy didn’t say which crossings might be scrapped, but said that KiwiRail was “in conversation” with councils in Auckland and Wellington about reducing their number.
“For example, 30 level crossings in Wairarapa is unnecessary. It creates an increased risk.”
And, in response to criticism over a specific proposal to close crossings in the Wairarapa, it’s good to see Reidy being unequivocal about safety being more important than a bit of disruption. It would be good if we saw that more from other organisations:
Reidy acknowledged the rail agency had been met with opposition to this proposal, but the hassle it will cause motorists would be worth the lives saved.
“It’s not an easy thing to close a crossing. It will cause disruptions, but we need to reduce the number of incidents.”
In Auckland, Auckland Transport are looking to to close a number of pedestrian level crossings. But as I pointed out at the time, why are they not also doing the easy road crossings too?
Almost a decade ago a study of level crossings found that based on traffic volumes and road function, up to ten could feasibly be closed with a further five possibly being added to that list. Those feasible and possible crossings closures for the Western Line included Fruitvale Rd, Rossgrove Tce, Asquith Ave, and George St.
The Asquith Ave crossing is notable because it even has a driveway that joins the road inside of the existing barrier arms.
Closing this crossing and the nearby Rossgrove Tce crossing could even help make for some great little low-traffic neighbourhoods.