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Train accident highlights wheelchair safety

JAMES IRELAND
Last updated 05:00 01/03/2013
Sharon Davies
JAMES IRELAND/ Fairfax NZ
ACCESSIBILITY PROBLEM: Sharon Davies says safety for pedestrians crossing rail lines should be prioritised.

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Calls for wheelchair safety at railway crossings are being reignited after a disabled woman was critically injured when she was struck by a freight train at a Western line level crossing.

The 23-year-old victim could not be removed from the chair and was hit and dragged by the train at the Morningside level crossing on Monday morning despite the efforts of bystanders.

She is being treated at Auckland Hospital for severe head injuries and multiple fractures.

There are 23 level crossings throughout Auckland and many of them have gaps of 60mm to 80mm between the track and the asphalt.

The standard tyres for both manual and electric chairs are narrower than these gaps measuring 25mm wide and 50mm respectively. 

Waitakere Ranges Local Board personal assistant Sharon Davies uses a wheelchair and said she would not have gone over the crossing.

''A bit of personal responsibility is important. I have never been across that crossing. Every day I go over the Glen Eden crossing and it's certainly not ideal,'' she said.

''I often get halfway and think how horrible it would be if something went wrong. Luckily for me I could get out of my chair if it did become trapped.''

Davies said sometimes the best option for wheelchair users was to take the long way around and be safe.

KiwiRail spokeswoman Kimberly Brady said the organisation had received a complaint about the Glenview Rd crossing in Glen Eden which was being investigated.

She said KiwiRail built a bridge or underpass at the site because the rail line was its responsibility.

''But because it's basically an extension of the footpath it is up to Auckland Transport to provide the funding. We understand research into a bridge has been done.''

Davies was instrumental in getting an overbridge put in at the Swanson train station.

''All the affected parties need to come together to find a practical solution. In the meantime I hope the work done on the crossings is actually improving them, not just regular maintenance. 

''They are not only a concern for wheelchair users but for mothers with prams and people with walkers.''

Gaps between the asphalt and rail are not the only issue. The height of the rail compared to the asphalt can also create troughs or bumps which are tough to navigate.

Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan said the crossing on St Judes St in Avondale is earmarked for removal after a full review of crossings in 2011. 

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It will be replaced by an underpass or bridge.

The Morningside and Manuroa Rd, Takanini, crossings are also priorities. More than $1 million has been allocated for further investigation and design work for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 financial years.

- Auckland Now

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