Dead phones, lack of control hampered rescue

Last updated 05:00 08/08/2014
Derailed train
The interior of the Porirua to Wellington train which derailed.

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Kiwirail staff responding to a train derailment near Wellington were hampered by flat cellphones and a lack of control over the site.

The four-car Ganz Mavag train derailed near Kaiwharawhara on May 20 last year as it headed into Wellington with 315 passengers and three crew. Four passengers were treated for minor injuries after the accident, which forced an air compressor up through the floor of a passenger car.

Two internal KiwiRail reports, made public under the Official Information Act, detailed the company's response to the incident.

They revealed that staff responding to the incident found their cellphones were either busy or had flat batteries. As they did not have two-way radios, staff had to walk between the accident site and a nearby command centre to communicate.

Ambulance staff were seen climbing into the train before the site had been declared safe.

"Access should not have occurred before being approved by KiwiRail," the report said.

Both emergency services and KiwiRail staff accessed the site without proper control being established, and there were no briefings on hazards or what protective gear was needed.

Passengers were stranded on the train for about an hour because of the risk of electrocution, before being ushered off.

KiwiRail found evacuation could have taken place about 25 minutes earlier, once the train's power was isolated. "However, the decision to wait . . . while not strictly necessary, was a reasonable precaution."

The company failed to collect passenger details for follow-up. While these were gathered by other agencies, they could not be shared for privacy reasons.

KiwiRail found many elements of the response went well, but there were lessons to be learned.

These included the need to review its emergency response equipment, continued training for similar incidents, and regular drills with emergency services.

In October, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) issued an "urgent recommendation" that KiwiRail improve its maintenance procedures, after finding two split pins in the brakes were left off, leading to the derailment.

KiwiRail has also been under the spotlight after a Matangi train derailed at Lower Hutt's Melling Station on May 27 this year.

Interim TAIC findings revealed the driver tested positive for cannabis use. That accident followed a similar one in April last year when a train also overshot the tracks at Melling.

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