Just stop, driver begs

Taieri Gorge Railway locomotive engineer Kevin Phillips said he had more near misses at Dunedin...
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 warned.

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 our control''.

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 trains''.

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 possible.''

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 train.

• 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.


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