Rural awareness the focus of Rail Safety Week

9 August, 2021

KiwiRail and TrackSAFE NZ are calling on motorists to take extra care as new research reveals more than three quarters of serious vehicle collisions with trains occur in provincial towns and rural areas.

Over the last decade 79 per cent of crashes between vehicles and trains at level crossings causing death or serious injury were in provincial towns and rural areas with populations of less than 75,000. Almost half of these crashes occurred in the mornings, between 8am and midday

Findings from the study commissioned by TrackSAFE NZ have prompted a new safety campaign being launched at Parliament today warning people to be vigilant when crossing railway lines.

KiwiRail Group Chief Executive Greg Miller says while the campaign targets provincial New Zealand, it is an important message for everyone.

“Farmers and rural workers are over-represented in the statistics when it comes to serious-injury and fatal vehicle crashes.

“People in rural areas often start their day early. Crossing railway lines safely may not be at the forefront of everyone’s mind when starting a busy working day so we are giving people a literal wake-up call with early morning radio ads this week reminding them to be alert to trains.

“Train accidents are unforgiving. The average freight train weighs 2000 tonnes or more and cannot swerve to avoid a car or stop easily.

“We are seeing at least one vehicle collision on train lines around New Zealand every three weeks, and a near miss every few days.

“Tragically, in the past 10 years 163 people have died on the rail network, 54 of those at level crossings. We don’t want to see another life lost.”

TrackSAFE NZ Foundation Manager Megan Drayton says that while the number of collisions with vehicles at public level crossings is declining, there is no room for complacency.

“In the 12 months to June, KiwiRail recorded 31 collisions with trains on the national network, 17 involving vehicles and 14 involving pedestrians. Of these, 12 occurred at level crossings on public roads, most of which had flashing lights, bells or barrier arms installed.

“Any collision is one too many and TrackSAFE urges pedestrians and motorists to take greater care.

“In our biggest metropolitan areas, Auckland and Wellington, we have busy networks carrying people to work and freight to ports and the frequency of services is expected to increase.”

It is not only people at risk in the rail corridor.

In the past 12 months, KiwiRail train drivers (locomotive engineers) have recorded 65 incidents of hitting livestock, usually with catastrophic consequences for the animals.

“These incidents are obviously disastrous for the animals involved, but also can be traumatising for our locomotive engineers, farmers and others who may be required to euthanise injured animals and clean up the locomotive and tracks,” Mr Miller says.

“Other than drivers, cyclists and pedestrians taking care to safely cross at level crossings, our 3700km rail corridor is no place for the public or animals.

“Rail safety statistics are generally trending in the right direction but there are still too many collisions and near misses involving trains. These incidents are usually avoidable and we urge people to wake up to the risk that trains pose.”

Rail Safety Week is coordinated by KiwiRail and TrackSAFE NZ in close partnership with Waka Kotahi, NZ Police, Auckland Transport, Transdev Auckland, Greater Wellington Regional Council, Transdev Wellington and councils throughout New Zealand.