Crossing safety reviewed

SAFE TO CROSS:  After checking there is no train coming,  a woman and children cross tracks on Main Street, Blenheim, near where a woman was struck by a train on Tuesday.
SAFE TO CROSS: After checking there is no train coming, a woman and children cross tracks on Main Street, Blenheim, near where a woman was struck by a train on Tuesday.

KiwiRail is reviewing the safety of the pedestrian crossing at the Main St, Blenheim, roundabout after a 60-year-old woman was hit by a train on Tuesday.

The Blenheim woman remains in a critical condition in Wellington Hospital after she walked across Redwood St near the Main St roundabout and into the path of a southbound KiwiRail freight train about 8.30am.

A KiwiRail spokeswoman said the crossing would be reviewed to determine if the protection measures in place were appropriate - standard practice after any incident.

KiwiRail would work with the New Zealand Transport Agency to assess the risk of the crossing, she said.

Each crossing was surveyed to record site conditions, including view lines, signage, road markings, the number of operational rail tracks, and train and vehicle speeds, the spokeswoman said.

The collision and near-collision history of the crossing would also be considered, along with road and rail engineering experience, local knowledge of driver or pedestrian behaviour, social and economic assessment and standards and international best practice.

A 40kmh limit is in place for trains going through the Main St level crossing.

The train on Tuesday was travelling at 38kmh, the spokeswoman said.

Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman said he was interested in the outcome and recommendations of the review.

He did not personally have a problem with the safety of the Main St pedestrian crossing, and said the issue of its safety had not been raised with him before.

It was a difficult roundabout with a high volume of traffic and required care, he said. "If the crossing needs more signage, then I will advocate that."

His thoughts were with the woman who had been hit by the train and her family.

The incident on Tuesday was the 10th involving a train in Marlborough in the past 10 years.

In the past five years, KiwiRail train drivers recorded 16 near-collisions on the Main North Line between Picton and Wharanui, between Ward and Kaikoura.

Two of those near-collisions were with people, while the other 14 were with vehicles.

The KiwiRail spokeswoman said with Rail Safety Week next week, drivers and motorists were urged to always be aware of the crossing, obey the warning signs, and look both directions for trains.

"Listen, be aware, pay careful attention to your surroundings, and always ensure there's space on the other side of the crossing for your vehicle," she said.

Marlborough highway patrol team leader Sergeant Barrie Greenall said he saw a lot of drivers in Marlborough flout the law and race to beat the train across the tracks.

There were invariably two types of incidents involving train collisions, those involving vehicle drivers who were risk takers, and those involving vehicle drivers not paying attention, he said.

When something went wrong, it could be catastrophic, he said.

Both types of driver put a lot of pressure on the train driver, Greenall said.

Not long ago, Greenall attended a fatal crash involving a train and a vehicle. The train driver was a personal friend. The driver of the vehicle had been complacent at a level crossing and hadn't been paying attention.

"People don't understand the sense of helplessness these train drivers have," Greenall said. "They just can't stop their trains in time."

Drivers who failed to stop for flashing lights at level crossings, or entered a rail crossing which was blocked by traffic, faced an infringement notice carrying a fine of $150.

Train accidents didn't occur often, which meant people weren't as aware of the dangers, he said.

"But when it does go wrong, it's horrible."

The Marlborough Express