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Rail safety on the line

TOM HUNT
Last updated 12:16 12/08/2014
Rail safety sim
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ

ALL ABOARD: Launch of Rail Safety Week and the first public unveiling of a new virtual reality train simulator. Associate Transport Minister, Michael Woodhouse and Plateau School pupil Toby Rudman, 9, using the simulator at Wellington Railway Station.

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The wait is the worst part - the grim minutes that can last an hour between a train hitting a car and emergency services arriving.

For train driver Robert Neale it has happened three times.

That is three times his train has been physically unable to stop before fatally hitting a car at a level crossing.

Rail Safety Week kicked of this morning with a strong focus on drivers' behaviour at level crossings.

So far this year there have been 15 collisions between trains and vehicles at level crossings, with five fatalities in four separate incidents.

''The train always wins,'' Neale said.

In his nine years on the job he has been in three fatal accidents at level crossings around the Auckland region.

After each hit, he made sure the train was not going to move, notified emergency services, then faced the dreaded walk back along the tracks to see if there was a survivor to help.

Then - if it was fatal - was the long wait that could last an hour, in an out-of-the way place for help to arrive.

That was the worst part, he said.

The last time he hit and killed someone was in 2009. That time he had a trainee driver in the cab.

''It was probably good for both of us.

''The emotional impact had, so far, been ''okay'' for him but when he got home and told his wife of the most recent fatal she broke down in tears.

There was also the impact on colleagues and friends, not to mention the victim's friends and families.KiwiRail freight operations manager Allan Wight still remembered, when he was a driver, seeing what he thought was a ''piece of rubbish or tarpaulin'' on the tracks in Taranaki.

It was far too late to stop when he realised it was a person, who was soon dead.

These days, in his managerial role, he regularly attends crash scenes, many where car drivers ignored level crossing warnings.

''I have seen some horrific, horrific scenes - not nice at all.'' 

For Rail Safety Week, KiwiRail has installed virtual reality trains where people can feel what it is like to drive a train dealing with cars and pedestrians.

The simulator was tested this morning by Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse and Upper Hutt Plateau School pupil Toby Rudman, who did not crash and in his short stint spotted four hazards - two cars, a pedestrian, and a person wanting to cross the tracks.

He did better than this reporter, who hit three cars in three turns.

The simulator will be at the Wellington Railway Station till 6.30pm today and at North City Plaza in Porirua from 10am-5pm on Sunday.

It will be in Queen St, Masterton from 9.30am-4pm on Saturday.It is also going to Auckland and Christchurch.

- To try the rail safety simulator, click here.

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