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Area blessed after death

DUBBY HENRY
Last updated 05:00 18/12/2013
Train Blessing

KARAKIA: Tainui kaumatua from left: Elvis Castles, Bobby Clarke, Ted Ngataki, Whitiora Cooper and Eru Thompson bless the Taka St railway crossing in Takanini following the death of 12-year-old girl.

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Maori elders have helped a community come to terms with tragedy by blessing the railway tracks where several people have lost their lives.

Residents and kaumatua gathered on Sunday to bless Takanini's four level railway crossings including one in Taka St where a 12-year-old girl died in November.

It's hoped the "beautiful" ceremony will be the first step towards healing for her family.

Three of the suburb's level crossings - Walters Rd, Manuroa Rd and Taka St - have been the scene of deaths in the past decade, including two this year.

The fourth, Spartan Rd, is in an industrial area with fewer pedestrians.

Local woman Maureen Blackmoore organised the blessing as a way to help the community grieve.

Hearing trains coming through means the "devastating" incident is constantly on people's minds, she says.

She hopes the blessing can "bring some peace to the community".

"We've lost so many. It won't fix the problem but as long as the community knows it's been acknowledged."

The group started at the southernmost crossing, Walters Rd, and finished at Spartan Rd to symbolise sending the spirits northward to Cape Reinga.

Ms Blackmoore says the blessing was just the first step - the real challenge will be convincing Auckland Transport to get rid of the level crossings.

For years the community has asked for the crossings to be grade separated so cars and pedestrians can avoid the tracks by using an underpass or bridge.

Next year new electric trains will be introduced which will be quieter, faster and more frequent, adding to the risk, and Ms Blackmore says parents are increasingly fearful for their children.

Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan says rail crossing safety is taken "very seriously" at the organisation. But with more than 30 vehicle level crossings in Auckland, "it is going to take time and a lot of money to grade separate all those crossings", he says.

The organisation is working on a programme which will decide which crossings are the highest priority, create concept designs for the grade separations and work out costs.

Grade separating Walters Rd has been costed at $28 million - although Mr Hannan says that's a particularly expensive example.

A report to the Auckland Transport board in March next year will set out the priorities for grade separation and propose a budget, he says.

Meanwhile Auckland Transport and rail operator KiwiRail are working together to keep all level crossings up to scratch.

Interim safety measures could include more gates and police enforcement.

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- Papakura Courier

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