KiwiRail accepts responsibility for accident

KiwiRail has accepted responsibility for an accident in which a young woman in a wheelchair was hit by a train at a level crossing in Auckland.

The state-owned company has finally released a report, originally due before Easter, on its investigation into the accident at Morningside Drive on February 25, accepting that the crossing was in a "degraded condition".

"We take our responsibility for meeting our own safety standards seriously and are very disappointed and apologetic for our failure in this instance," said KiwiRail chairman John Spencer.

A 22-year-old woman suffered horrific injuries in the accident when her wheelchair got stuck in the level crossing.

Two bystanders rushed to help her when they saw a freight train approaching, but could not get her wheelchair unstuck in time and had to throw it roughly out of the train's path.

The train still hit the edge of the chair and dragged the young woman along the track until the train stopped.

She was in intensive care for a week and almost died. Her mother said that when she asked what she could do, the intensive care worker replied: "Pray."

The young woman suffered a fractured pelvis, fractured right humerus (upper arm bone), fractured left elbow, had part of left foot amputated, and had plates inserted in her right femur (hip bone) and in her left hand.

The report found the width and depth of the flange gap, the uneven surface of the crossing and the angle of the crossing were contributing factors to the accident.

"Despite the crossing being fully rebuilt in mid-2011, its condition had deteriorated rapidly mostly due to the combined impact of stormwater flooding and a broken water pipe beneath it," Mr Spencer said.

"We have shared the findings of this report with the young woman's family, and we will continue to remain in contact with them providing any appropriate levels of support for as long as is needed."

He said work has already begun to mitigate the risk of any accidents like this occurring again.

"We took immediate steps after the accident to re-seal Morningside crossing and inspect other similar pedestrian rail crossings nationally. There were no crossings identified with the same level of deficiency as that at Morningside, but over the three days following the accident work was done on eight of the 60 crossings in Auckland to improve their underfoot evenness.

"With the completion of this report we will act on its recommendations to review both pedestrian level crossing design and construction, and make further improvements to our inspection process."

He said KiwiRail would be looking internationally to identify other methods that may help better manage the design, construction, inspection and maintenance needs specific to rail pedestrian level crossings.

"Our intention is to also continue to involve groups representing mobility impaired users and cyclists in this work.

- Simon Collins of the NZ Herald

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