Rail driver's death remembered at service

Affected family members and friends walk along the Main South Line at Waipahi Station, as part of...
Affected family members and friends walk along the Main South Line at Waipahi Station, as part of a commemorative service for Graham White, who was killed in a train crash there on October 20, 1999. PHOTO: PETER DOWDEN
Graham White had no reason to believe it was a day different from any other.

It was October 20, 1999, and the Dunedin-based train driver had just pulled up his southbound train 919 on the Main South Line at Waipahi Station.

He was just about to jump out of the locomotive to change the mainline points so that northbound train 938 could pass on a parallel section of track diverging from the main line.

It was the responsibility of the first train to arrive to set the mainline points for the passing loop.

Unfortunately, the trains arrived at Waipahi Station almost simultaneously and, at 7.02am, train 938 entered the station and collided head-on with train 919, killing Mr White and seriously injuring the driver of train 938.

Twenty years later, a special train took about 150 family members of the affected workers, friends, and Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) and KiwiRail representatives, from Dunedin Railway Station to a commemorative service at the Waipahi memorial site yesterday.

Service organiser and RMTU general secretary Wayne Butson said the tragedy at Waipahi, alongside the deaths of 15 Tranz Rail employees from 1993 to 2000, led to the formation of a ministerial inquiry into Tranz Rail's safety record.

It identified a number of significant safety failures, and procedural improvements were put in place to protect workers in the industry.

"The contrast between then and now is stark.

"What Waipahi teaches us is that we must never grow complacent. One worker injured or killed is one too many.

"Never forget what happened, and never let it happen again."

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