Kapiti miniature train attraction closed

MATT STEWART AND KAY BLUNDELL
Last updated 12:35 24/12/2013

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Kapiti Coast's miniature railway has been closed by WorkSafe NZ, right in the middle of the not-for-profit attraction's busiest season.

WorkSafe New Zealand, which has taken over the health and safety functions of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment,  announced on yesterday that the Kapiti Miniature Railway at Raumati Beach would stay shut until passenger safety concerns outlined in an engineer's report were addressed.

Graeme Brown, a committee member of the  Kapiti Miniature Railway & Model Engineering Society,  said the timing of the decision was cynical and had left members ''surprised and dismayed''.

WorkSafe chief investigations inspector Alan Cooper said an investigation began after a family was tipped from the train as it rounded a curve in September. Nobody was seriously injured in the accident.

''WorkSafe NZ recognises this is a community attraction, and closing it down at holiday time was not a decision we took lightly, but I could not look a parent in the eye if another incident occurred and a child was injured,'' Mr Cooper said.

But Mr Brown said thousands of passengers were carried safely each year and the decision was a ''gross overreaction.''

The railway was closed briefly in 2008 after another accident. Mr Cooper said that, since then, ''the operators have failed to properly maintain registration of the railway under the Amusement Devices Regulations which they are required to do when carrying passengers''.

Mr Brown said the society had not had time to digest the report, which he said was flawed because it was based on a full-sized railway.

There were some conclusions in the report the society ''vigorously disputed'', including concerns about the stability of carriages, he said.

The report found multiple factors raised serious safety concerns including the railway's very narrow gauge, the ''fundamental instability of the straddle carriages'' as well as their design, which made the carriages prone to tipping at speed or in wind gusts.

Kapiti Railway executive committee member Laurie Bason said there had only been two incidents in the 35 years the popular tourist attraction had been running.

About 55,000 people rode the train a year, 600-700 people on Sundays. They did regular charity runs and were a favourite attraction for schools and kindergartens.

"We do not have problems with children but adults do not listen to what you tell them," Mr Bason said.

Passengers were always given strict instructions before hopping on board to remain seated, keep their feet on the running boards, not to lean out either way and not to stand up, he said. The verbal instructions before each ride were reinforced with signage. A lot of the information from WorkSafe about the recent incident was incorrect, he said.

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A family was not tipped off. One woman leaned out to the side, making her and the carriage unstable and she fell off, he said.

Contrary to the accident report, the rail gauge they used was standard throughout the country and overseas.
The closure of the attraction with no chance to discuss the issues had been a shock.

"It came out of the blue, from left field. We are disgusted," Mr Bason said.

The Society included highly-trained experts in their 60s and 70s - engineers and people who had built locomotives from scratch.

The society has 14 days to appeal against the decision. 

- The Dominion Post

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