'I've got no brakes, brace yourselves!'

TIM DONOGHUE AND PAUL EASTON
Last updated 06:38 28/05/2014
Train removal
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ

NIGHT MOVES: Crews work to remove the crashed train at Melling Station overnight.

Melling train crash
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Passenger Ross Moreland says a driver told passengers to brace themselves before the train hit the end of the line.

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"I've got no brakes, brace yourselves," a train driver yelled to his passengers, seconds before the new Matangi unit smashed into a concrete buffer in Lower Hutt.

The front carriage was pushed two metres into the air as the train failed to stop at the end of the Melling line at 8.10am yesterday.

The 10 passengers on board were left shaken, with one treated for shock and a woman taken to Wellington Hospital with cuts and bruises. The driver was unharmed.

Tranz Metro said all trains on the Melling line were cancelled until further notice. Services were being replaced by buses between Melling and Petone, where trains were running.

Passenger Ross Moreland, who was at the front of the train when it hit the buffer, said: "The driver jumped out of his cab and told us to brace ourselves when we were roughly 300 metres from the end of the line.

"He shouted out: ‘I've got no brakes, brace yourselves.' From what I saw, the driver looked like he could do nothing. He didn't have any brakes at all."

Tomai Morris, who was waiting on the platform, said: "The train didn't slow down at all, it sped past me and kept going like an express train, until it crashed. There was a big crash sound and a cloud of dust."

Greater Wellington Regional Council, which owns Tranz Metro's fleet of new Korean-built Matangi trains, said they had no history of brake troubles.

"The trains do not have a problem with their brakes," council chairwoman Fran Wilde said, adding that the fleet was insured and still under warranty.

"We're in regular contact with the train manufacturers. Under the terms of the original agreement, representatives of Hyundai, the manufacturers, are still in Wellington providing warranty and technical support."

KiwiRail general manager Peter Reidy said the Matangi trains would not be taken off the rails. "This was a very serious incident and we're very sorry it happened."

Deborah Hume, KiwiRail's general manager, passenger, said commuters were not at risk. "I take them [trains] myself and I believe they are safe."

In April last year, a train ploughed through the buffers at Melling station, leaving some passengers with minor injuries. A Transport Accident Investigation Commission inquiry into that crash was still under way, Hume said.

KiwiRail's internal investigation was finished. She would not say what caused the accident, but said no fault with the track or train was found.

"There was no cause for concern from the train or infrastructure."

The Dominion Post understands the 2013 crash was put down to human error.

Investigations into yesterday's accident by KiwiRail, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission and WorkSafe New Zealand, will centre on analysis of the train's "black box" data recorder and on-board cameras.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said yesterday it was too early to say what had caused the crash. "This is very disconcerting because we're encouraging people to use commuter rail. Not only do we want it to be reliable but we want it to be safe."

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The matter needed to be addressed quickly to ensure the public kept faith in the service. "Any rail operator has derailments from time to time, but it's the nature of this one that's particularly concerning. No-one is happy about it, no-one is pleased, and we want to know what went wrong."

Rail and Maritime Transport Union general secretary Wayne Butson said the train's crew was shaken by the incident.

Both southbound lanes of State Highway 2 were closed last night so the train could be removed by cranes.

TROUBLE ON THE TRACKS

July 2007: 48 Matangi trains worth $235 million are ordered for the capital network from Japanese-Korean consortium Rotem Mitsui, with an expected 2010 delivery date.

September 2010: Trains shown off at Wellington railway station. But one breaks down during a test and has to be towed back to the depot.

December: Deadline for the new trains to start work missed.

March 2011: Trains finally begin carrying passengers on the Upper Hutt line.

March 2012: Fewer than half of the Matangi units are running as delays continue.

May: Delays during a cold snap lead KiwiRail to admit Matangi are more vulnerable to frost and icy conditions.

April 2013: A train ploughs through the buffers at Melling station, leaving some passengers with minor injuries.

June: Regional council orders 35 more Matangi for $170m.

October: Potential catastrophic mechanical failure in a coupling pin found by German maker Faiveley. All trains removed immediately. Eight found to have faulty pins and repaired.

April 2014: Trains pulled from service for a weekend because of a potential "earthing problem".

May 27: Train crashes through buffers at Melling, two passengers taken to hospital.

- The Dominion Post

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