Rail crossing was flagged for repairs

Grace Diedrichs was 15 when she died.
Grace Diedrichs was 15 when she died.

A rail crossing where a teenage girl died was identified by KiwiRail six months ago as having "significant defects" that could cause injury to road users.

But while it accepts the Carterton crossing was flagged for nearly $11,000 in repairs, it says the defects relate only to the road surface and deny they played any part in the fatal crash.

Grace Diedrichs, 15, was killed on February 17 after a ute in which she was a passenger collided with a train at a level crossing in Wiltons Rd.

The driver, Jonathan Painter, 17, of Pahiatua, suffered serious injuries but was well enough to attend Grace's funeral on Friday.

A police investigation into the cause of the crash is yet to be completed.

In a letter to Carterton District Council dated August 20, 2012, KiwiRail area manager John Humphrey described the Wiltons Rd crossing and four others as being "priority 1" or "2".

"This means the crossings have significant defects that have the risk of causing damage/injury to public road users and pedestrians and to KiwiRail employees, trains and property."

Mr Humphrey goes on to call the crossings "high priority", but agreed to defer repair work until after a work programme was arranged with the council.

A subsequent letter from the council said that a follow-up meeting was held in October, after which deeds of grant were to be sought to establish whether the repair work was the responsibility of KiwiRail or the council.

This week a KiwiRail spokeswoman said the "significant defects" related only to the road surface, and included things such as potholes. They would have no effect on incidents such as the one that killed Grace.

"I can say with certainty that this issue with the road surface would not have caused that accident."

When engineers spoke of the crossing causing damage or harm, they meant damage to tyres and harm from pedestrians tripping on the surface, she said.

Carterton council chief executive Colin Wright said the repairs were simply to do with a rough crossing.

"It's all about budgeting for planned maintenance work. It's not about ‘These things are so bad we need to rush and do it now'."

As Wiltons Rd crossed established railway lines, the cost of repairs was the responsibility of the council. The work was likely to start in August, Mr Wright said.

Senior Sergeant Carolyn Watson said the serious crash unit was still investigating and a final report was likely to be weeks away as the driver was yet to be interviewed.

She has previously said that visibility was not an issue and the driver appeared to have slammed on the brakes before the collision.

"Police are unaware of any concerns that KiwiRail may or may not have in relation to that crossing," Ms Watson said.

"We urge motorists to take extreme care with the level crossings we have in the Wairarapa."

Contact Seamus Boyer
Wairarapa reporter
Email: seamus.boyer@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @SeamusBoyer

The Dominion Post