MP at a loss after KiwiRail rejects plea

BY CHERIE HOWIE
Last updated 13:00 16/04/2009

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Kaikoura MP Colin King says he does not know what to do after KiwiRail told him it would not take another look at safety at the Kinross St level crossing.

Blenheim pensioner Rex Watchman died at the crossing in February when the car he was driving collided with a south-bound TranzCoastal passenger train.

This prompted calls from Mr King, Marlborough mayor Alistair Sowman and Mr Watchman's family for barrier arms to be installed.

Prime Minister John Key also backed those calls, telling The Marlborough Express during a visit to Blenheim a week after Mr Watchman's death that he would ask KiwiRail to "take another look".

Mr Key asked Mr King to follow up that request on his behalf.

However, Mr King said yesterday KiwiRail had told him safety at the crossing would not be reviewed.

"Even though there's been a fatality on that crossing it doesn't change a thing.

"I don't have an answer now what to do ... I think I'm going to have to give it some thought."

In a letter to Mr King, KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn says a 2005 national level crossing upgrade priority list, created using vehicle use figures and crash history, did not rank Kinross St among collision black spots.

Mr Watchman was the first person to die at the crossing.

Using the 2005 criteria it would be five to eight years before half-arm barriers were installed, Mr Quinn says.

"Following the collision, we did reassess the crossing priority. This involved making sure we have the latest road vehicle count and an updated figure for the number of trains passing through the crossing. Neither figure changed the crossing's priority for upgrading."

KiwiRail is accountable to the whole country and must be objective, he says.

"Your reaction and that of people in Blenheim is understandable, but I hope you can appreciate our need to make decisions objectively, and however hard it may be, not be swayed by the emotion of the moment.

"We regret level crossing fatalities as much as anyone, but to depart from the objective criteria we have established would put us in an untenable situation."

Level crossings on State Highway 1 (Wairau Rd) in Picton, Vickerman St in Picton and Redwood Pass Rd were ranked a higher priority for upgrade than Kinross St.

Mr Quinn says KiwiRail is continuing initiatives to increase level crossing awareness, and Marlborough is one of the most collision prone areas in the country in the past five years.

"Trains do have right of way, but too many New Zealanders take unnecessary chances.

"In the past 10 years, 11 per cent of road level crossing collisions occurred where half-arm barriers had been installed," Mr Quinn said.

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- The Marlborough Express

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