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Ian Thornton

Taranaki train driver Ian Thornton has been involved in many collisions, and sadly some of them have been fatal.

“I have often been asked after these incidents “why can’t you stop”, or “don’t you have an emergency brake?”   People seem to think that there is a way that I could have avoided the situation.

“The saying 'rides likes it's on rails' is so true, and that means that I can’t swerve to avoid a vehicle on a level crossing. Normally there is so little warning of a collision that even applying the emergency brakes has little effect on the outcome.

“A 1000 tonne train travelling at 70 kilometres per hour can take up to 750 metres to stop,” Ian says.

All except one of the collisions that Ian has been involved in were at crossings that had flashing lights and bells operating at the time of the collision.

He says he witnesses bad driving around level crossings almost on a daily basis and has lost count of how many near collisions that happen.  “They can be just as horrifying as an actual collision,” Ian says. 

“You see a vehicle arriving at a level crossing at speed and you wonder if it’s going to stop in time. You hope that the driver does the right thing, obeys the warning signs and waits for the train to pass before going over the level crossing.

“It’s an awful thing to experience, and every near miss we have also brings back the terribly sad memories of the collisions from the past.”

Ian says living with the emotional pain of railway collisions is unfortunately part of the job.  “Obviously no train driver wants it to happen to them during their career, and we wish that we had the power to avoid them, but we know that ultimately the final outcome of any railway crossing incident is in the hands of the motor vehicle driver.”


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  • Nicole Vreugdenhil “It's amazing I survived at all”
  • Roni Jacobs “We now always stop at a Stop sign”
  • Ian Thornton “I've lost count of how many near misses I've had”
  • Cathy Turner “I miss my son Michael every day”
  • Joseph Butters “He will never be the boy he was going to be”
  • Marree Sylva “This can happen to anyone no matter how good a driver you think you are”
  • Mike Kilsby “It impacts on all your family and friends”
  • Paul Johansen “I wouldn't wish it on anyone, and I wish I hadn't been there”
  • Ray Burgess “They thought I would die so I know I'm one of the lucky ones”
  • Willy Palmer “We never want to see the horrific things we do”

Keeping safe


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Heavy vehicle safety research launched

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Four serious collisions between heavy vehicles and trains in three months have highlighted a worrying trend, according to rail safety charity TrackSAFE NZ, which is launching a research project to help improve safety for heavy vehicle drivers around railway level crossings.   Read more

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