Taieri Gorge Railway locomotive engineer Kevin Phillips
said he had more near misses at Dunedin level crossings
than during his time in Auckland. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Every day, a Dunedin-based locomotive driver has a near
miss with a motorist.
And Brian McKay has had enough.
''I just can't understand their mentality.''
He is referring to the motorists who see an oncoming train -
often less than 100m away - and then make the decision to
drive across a level crossing.
The chairman of the Otago branch of the Rail and Maritime
Transport Union said ''people see the train and they have to
hurry up, because they think the train is going to delay
their journey for some exorbitant amount of time''.
At a maximum speed of 80kmh, a goods train could take
500m-800m to stop, he said.
''We come up to a crossing and we blow the whistle; if the
crossing has bells they are sounding, but the onus is solely
on the motorist.
''We don't have any control over it.''
Of the 18 Dunedin-based drivers operating between Timaru and
Invercargill, only two had not been involved in an accident
and, unfortunately for them, it was only a matter of time, he
It was difficult to categorise offending motorists but noted
it was ''across the board''.
And his message to those motorists?
''Just be patient and wait. We are not going to be on the
crossing for long.''
Mr McKay said the drivers were often first on the scene and
had been involved in five serious crashes - three involving
vehicles, and two fatalities involving pedestrians.
''There is very little first aid that needs to be done if you
are hit by a train.''
When asked how many of those crashes could have been
prevented, he replied ''All of them''.
Each accident resulted in a driver given a mandatory
stand-down, with counselling also provided, which ''helped
rationalise the fact you are in situations that are beyond
TrackSAFE Foundation manager Megan Drayton said near misses
were extremely traumatic for train drivers and ''some of them
say that they can be one of the hardest parts of driving
A current survey asks more than 900 locomotive engineers
throughout the country what they think is the worst level
crossing in their area.
Taieri Gorge Railway locomotive engineer Kevin Phillips said
the worst crossing for him was Factory Rd in Mosgiel.
''It is really bad.''
Mr Phillips, who had driven locomotives since 1978 and during
that time had been involved in nine serious crashes of which
six were fatal, said he had experienced more near misses in
Dunedin than during his time in Auckland.
Senior Sergeant Steve Larking, Acting Southern district road
policing manager, said police did receive complaints from
train drivers about motorists entering through rail level
crossings when lights, bells and barriers were operating.
''This is a real risk and a concern for train drivers. Police
follow up on these complaints and take action where
The penalty for entering on to a rail level crossing when the
bells, lights or barriers were operating is a $150 fine.
''We always remind motorists to take extreme care before
entering and driving over a railway level crossing.''
Advice to motorists
• TrackSAFE urges motorists to obey level crossing alarms and
never to enter a crossing if they can see a train
approaching, but be patient and wait for it to pass.
• Trains travel faster than people think and research has
shown we cannot accurately judge the speed of an approaching
• In 2013 KiwiRail recorded 107 near collisions nationwide
with vehicles at level crossings; 43% of these occurred at
crossings with flashing lights and bells operating and 40% at
crossings with half arm barriers operating.
• The remaining 16% of near collisions occurred at crossings
with either a give way or stop sign.
• Since the beginning of 2009, there have been 260 near
misses with vehicles and trains in the South Island.
• From Lyttelton south there have been 146 near collisions
since the beginning of 2009.