We can't stop: Engineers join call for rail safety

21:13, Aug 14 2014
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One of KiwiRail's rail safety week billboards.

For KiwiRail locomotive engineer Tim Kerwin, a near miss with a school bus stuck under a barrier arm is just one of several close calls he has had in his nine-year career.

Drivers and pedestrians needed to take responsibility for their own safety, Kerwin said.

"We can't stop, we can't swerve, there's no chance."

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CROSSROADS: Locomotive Engineer Tim Kerwin and Locomotive Ops Manager John Keenan at the Feilding Railway Crossing at Kimbolton Road.

This is the message being delivered during the annual Rail Safety Week.

After a driver pulled the emergency brake, it would take 700 metres to 1000m to stop, Kerwin said.

"People need to respect the machine, it can't stop and it will destroy whatever's in its path - it's the laws of physics."


Kerwin said he had had too many close calls in his nine years of driving, and had about one each week.

Dannevirke was notorious for pedestrians walking across the tracks, he said.

He routinely drove past people walking along the track between Kimbolton Rd and North St, in Feilding, wearing hoods and headphones. They could not hear his horn, and were risking their lives.

People needed to think about the effect of their stupidity, Kerwin said.

"Not only will it affect your family who have lost a loved one, but it will also affect the driver for the rest of their life."

Kerwin's father had driven trains, and had two fatalities during his career.

"He still gets nightmares about them now."

He said there were more trains on the tracks now than four years ago.

"Palmerston North's container depot is the biggest terminal in the country, so there's more trains in this area and there's only going to be more."

KiwiRail regional manager John Keenan, who was a driver for more than 20 years, had numerous close calls too, and one fatality, about eight years ago, in Dannevirke.

"It's something I will never forget, I still see it as clear as the day it happened," he said.

Keenan said he was lucky the death was in the town centre, as emergency services were on the scene before the train had even stopped.

There was a process in place for drivers who were witness to fatalities, he said.

Drivers had an automatic three-day stand-down period, which could be extended.

There was also an employee assistance programme with counselling for drivers.

Kerwin said there was also a good support network in place among the other drivers and within the Rail and Maritime Transport Union.

Keenan said people simply needed to obey the road code.

"You wouldn't run a red light in the middle of town, or speed through a stop sign; it's no different across the tracks," he said.

Manawatu Standard