Deadly rail risks exposed

Rail authorities hope the sky-rocketing cost of fuel is not encouraging people to put their safety at risk, after the grisly death of two young men riding atop a freight train.

Police and rail companies have condemned the practice, which Toll Rail likens to ‘‘Russian roulette'', but say it is not as rare as people might think.

The two men, aged in their early 20s, apparently got on to the southbound train in North Canterbury on Wednesday night while it was moving. They are yet to be named.

Police believe the pair may have been trying to get a free lift to Christchurch when they were struck and killed by a structure overhanging the railway.

‘‘Obviously, people watch television and see people hop on and off trains and think it's reality,'' said Toll spokeswoman Sue Foley.

The pair were found by rail workers unloading the freight carriage about 3am yesterday.

They were lying on a tarpaulin covering the top of the carriage and had suffered severe head injuries.

The forklift driver who found them was ‘‘incredibly shocked'' and had been offered counselling, Ms Foley said.

Detective Senior Sergeant John Rae said he had fielded calls from the public yester day from people who knew others who rode atop trains.

Kevin Ramshaw, of Ontrack, said the rail network company regularly received reports from the public of people being on freight trains.

Staff could recall three instances in the past six months where people were found on trains.

‘‘It has come as a surprise that it is a little more common than we expected,'' Mr Ramshaw said.

‘‘I don't know there is a pattern. There are people that do it for a dare. There are people who feel it is a cheap way to get about,'' Mr Ramshaw said.

‘‘But who knows, that may be becoming more of a factor. If we are approaching it, we would certainly urge people to think very, very carefully, because they are putting their lives at risk.''

Brian Cronin, of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union, said while people travelling on top of trains might be routine in countries such as India, in New Zealand it was very different.

‘‘What people don't appreciate is that when you get on top of a wagon in New Zealand, most of them aren't very high. There are very small tunnels and maybe they are lying down, but that tunnel will get you.''

Police are still to identify where the two men got aboard the train, but believe it may be in an area where the train had slowed.

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