Crunch meeting over trains in asbestos scare

March 18 - Plans to return train vehicles involved in an asbestos scare to the tracks will be discussed at a two-day meeting between railworkers' union officials and KiwiRail in Auckland.

The Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) said information showing plans were being made to return the locomotives to service was premature. It is meeting KiwiRail today and tomorrow to discuss results of a second round of asbestos testing in 40 chinese-made locomotives.

The locomotives were pulled from service at the end of last month following the discovery of the potentially deadly material in a soundproofing compound inside one of the vehicles.

KiwiRail said seven of the 204 testing samples showed "a very small presence of non-respirable asbestos" in five operable locomotives.

Asbestos was not detected in the remaining 34 locomotives operating the the fleet.

The material can be harmful when fibres become airborne.

Wayne Butson, RMTU general secretary, said a variation in results between the first and second round of testing was concerning.

"One of the locomotives returned a positive result for loose asbestos fibres. The presence of loose fibres is of huge concern to us, as it is loose fibres that have the potential to be respirable."

"The first round of test results turned up negative for airborne asbestos fibres or asbestos dust. Now, the second ones are showing presence of asbestos in some locomotives. We need to see a comparison between the first and second round of testing for each locomotive, in order to understand why some have gone from negative to positive."

Finding out when fibres from asbestos in the vehicles were likely to become airborne was also important, Mr Butson said.

"Testing for this must be done proactively, rather than reactive testing that identifies a danger after our members have already operated or repaired the locomotives."

KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said the company was working with expert advisers and WorkSafe to determine a "safe re-entry into operation" for the vehicles.

"We have repeatedly said no locomotive will operate until we are completely satisfied it poses no risk to our people."


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