Lowest number of vehicle collisions with trains on record

Lowest number of vehicle collisions with trains on record

The latest figures from KiwiRail show that last year had the lowest number of collisions between vehicles and trains on record.

In 2019, there were 12 collisions between vehicles and trains, down from 25 in 2018. The previous best year on record was 2015, when there were 17 collisions.

TrackSAFE NZ Manager Megan Drayton says this is a pleasing trend. “We really want to commend New Zealand motorists on this outcome.

While obviously one collision is one too many, it’s encouraging to see this number come down to such a low level when use of the rail network is continuing to increase.

“People seem to be realising that trains always have legal right of way, they travel extremely fast and they cannot stop in a hurry. It’s fantastic to see that many motorists are acting safely and legally at level crossings, and are fully aware of the risks of crossing the rail network.”

Ms Drayton says while this decline in collisions cannot be attributed to one factor, several programmes over the past ten years have undoubtedly contributed to the reduction in collisions with trains.

Agencies are working together to upgrade and improve safety at level crossings – including improving visibility and signage and other improvements such as changing road alignments and installing flashing lights and bells and half arm barriers.

Some level crossing upgrades are part of Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s Safe Network Programme which aims to achieve significant and sustained reductions in deaths and serious injuries on State Highways and local roads across New Zealand.

“These programmes of work by KiwiRail, Waka Kotahi and local councils to upgrade crossings around New Zealand are starting to have benefits, Ms Drayton says.

“We also hope that our collective ongoing safety campaigns are helping to lift awareness of this important safety issue on our road and rail networks.”

KiwiRail Chief Executive Greg Miller says collisions are very hard to talk about. “They involve communities, families, KiwiRail’s people, kids.

“Rail fatalities are all avoidable. We are turning Rail Safety Week into a year-round focus on safety, and we can see that’s bearing results.

We’re following a ten-point plan that includes:

1.Supporting Rail Safety Week and TrackSAFE NZ

2.Working alongside Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and installing barrier arms, flashing lights and bells at upgraded crossing in a New Zealand-wide, targeted programme

3.Working with local councils to install automatic pedestrian crossing gates and upgraded crossings, such as recent and planned upgrades in Auckland, Wellington, Napier and New Plymouth

4.Improving infrastructure to better separate train movements and level crossings, including spending $4 million at Wairarapa’s Waingawa log yard to improve safety and efficiency

5.Working with local councils to install fencing, such as in Levin

6.Working with regional councils and Police on specific campaigns, such as our Bay of Plenty campaign to prevent children jumping into rivers from rail bridges

7.Implementing a rail safety ambassador programme to visit schools and visit community events

8.Holding public meetings around changes to local rail configuration, such as in Wellington around double tracking

9.Integrating cycleways safely into rail corridors, including in Whangarei, Auckland and Wellington

10.Implementing regional safety campaigns around new services, such as the new logging trains from Wairoa to Napier.

“All of this makes the rail network safer, and we have further plans to be announced this year. Our rail safety drive goes hand in hand with an internal safety drive that is also bearing results in protecting our people,” says Mr Miller.

While collisions between trains and heavy vehicles are relatively infrequent compared to vehicle to vehicle accidents on the road they have the potential for considerable loss of life and serious trauma.

“These incidents are devastating for everyone affected. Each and every collision has a traumatic impact not just on the victims and their friends and families, but also the wider community and the rail staff involved, particularly the locomotive engineers (train drivers),” he says.