Plea to make crossing safer
A Palmerston North coroner has recommended safety improvements to a Horowhenua railway crossing stay on track after a woman was killed there in a collision with a freight train.
And Coroner Tim Scott's findings were endorsed by residents who regularly use the uncontrolled crossing, near the intersection of Jacksons and Koputaroa roads, north of Levin.
Rosalyn "Sylvia" Yong, 69, died on December 11 last year when her car was hit by a northbound train at the crossing.
Ms Yong's car was completely flattened and shunted some 650 metres along the railway line. She died instantly. A dog in her car was also killed.
In a report into Ms Yong's death, released yesterday, Mr Scott recommended that KiwiRail remove trees near the intersection along Jacksons Rd.
He also asked that if trees were removed, the crossing should not be taken off KiwiRail's upgrade list for bells or barrier arms.
At present there is only a stop sign at the crossing.
Ms Yong's neighbour, Jessie Sarney, told the Manawatu Standard some trees around the railway crossing had already been removed.
"I think everybody's very much aware now that the accident happened," she said.
"Since the work's been done it certainly has improved."
Mrs Sarney said she occasionally had to creep over the yellow stop sign marks on the road to see if trains were coming.
Jacksons Rd resident Bark Dekker said as he grew older, he had become more careful at the crossing.
Installing lights would be "wonderful", although he was mindful of the cost.
Mr Scott's report said the train driver, Christopher Steel, sounded the horn as he approached the crossing and didn't have time to brake until after the train hit the car at 69kmh.
It would be "unfair and unreasonable" to say Mr Steel could have reacted faster, Mr Scott said.
"Even had he been able to react slightly more quickly to the developing emergency it would have made no real difference."
There could be several reasons why Ms Yong did not stop at the crossing; she might have been distracted by the dog in her car, been unable to see the train because of sunstrike, been obstructed by trees or the road's small rise, or she might simply not have looked.
Mr Scott said when he approached the crossing in his car visibility was poor and he had to inch beyond the stop sign to get a good line of sight.
"A simple and cheap way to improve visibility would be to cut the seven or so trees that border Jacksons Rd and the three or so trees that border the railway line."
A KiwiRail report obtained by Mr Scott said if the trees were removed the crossing could be dropped down its upgrade list. The coroner asked KiwiRail to remove the trees, but keep the crossing on the list.
A KiwiRail spokeswoman said Mr Scott's recommendations would be considered, but the State-owned organisation was yet to see the report.
Last year a spokeswoman said the crossing was "close to the bottom" of the upgrade list. Installing lights and bells would cost more than $110,000.
Ms Young's death was the first collision recorded at the crossing, which opened in 1918. New Zealand has 1360 level crossings on public roads, of which 645 have no flashing lights, bells or barriers.