Crossing horror

EMMA WHITTAKER AND JOE DAWSON
Last updated 05:00 27/02/2013
Wheelchair horror
AFTERMATH: A St John staff member speaks to a woman rescuer whose foot was injured at the Morningside crossing.

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Calls to improve pedestrian safety at railway crossings are being reignited after a wheelchair-bound woman was struck by a freight train.

The 23-year-old woman is in critical condition and is being treated at Auckland Hospital for severe head injuries and multiple fractures after the incident at the Morningside level crossing.

It is understood the incident occurred when her wheelchair became stuck at 9.10am on Monday.

Matthieu Mereau was on his way to work in Kingsland when he saw the trapped woman.

"She was trying to move herself out of the way. I went over and said, ‘I'll help you, I'll get you out."

When he couldn't free the chair he called over a woman jogging past to help.

The pair struggled for as long as they could as the barrier arms came down and bells sounded the rapid approach of a train.

In the end they had no option but to tip the trapped woman out of her chair and leap out of the way of the oncoming train.

‘[The woman] fell clear but the wheelchair was still on the tracks," Mr Mereau says.

"That got caught by the train. The lady was still close to the wheelchair so she got dragged along."

The woman who came to help was also taken to hospital and was released later in the day.

Albert-Eden Local Board member Graeme Easte says the incident shows Auckland Transport needs to urgently consider grade level separation at railway crossings.

Grade separation refers to having bridges or tunnels over or under the line so pedestrians and motorists are not forced to cross the tracks.

The board has been pushing for the approach since its formation in 2010.

"We accept its expensive and its going to take time. It's our vision that maybe they'd be able to do one a year.

"We're not trying to break the bank, we are trying to break the pattern of doing nothing," he says.

Mr Easte says work may need to be done to see if there are any interim safety measure that can be put in place.

Auckland Transport has investigated grade level separation and Morningside Drive is on a list of 23 sites across the city that it believes would benefit from it.

Wheelchair user and barrier free adviser for CCS Disability Action Vivian Naylor went to look at the Morningside crossing on Monday and says she would not have attempted crossing there.

"When intersections are first done they are beautiful, but as time goes on and the tarseal layers up they become more dangerous," she says.

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Ms Naylor says those with different access needs are not good at complaining and will often find an alternative route or change plans instead of raising problems.

"We are constantly planning routes that no-one else would think about," Ms Naylor syas.

Training people to think about travel in the same way as someone with limited mobility would help, she says.

"I have been in touch with Kiwi Rail when a crossing is dangerous and they come out very quickly and make amendments, but I don't know if crews look at crossings in the same way they look at tracks."

She says some crossings have gates that prevent people from venturing out if it is not safe and something like that could work at Morningside.

"Suburban crossings do need to be kept in pretty good condition. At the very least they need to address the substrate in the surface."

She says its been quite a long time since the crossing was upgraded.

"I bet if it was a pothole in a road it would have been fixed earlier."

A Kiwi Rail spokeswoman says the crossing was upgraded in mid-2011 and since then there had been no other incidents.

The last time an incident occurred at Morningside before the upgrade was in 2002 when a person was hit and killed.

Fairfax NZ News

- © Fairfax NZ News

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