A man was lucky to escape with his life after colliding with a coal train on the West Coast last night.
At about 9.30pm the driver struck the side of a northbound train at a level crossing on State Highway 7 near Totara Flat.
He was flown to Grey Base Hospital, where he is in a stable condition in critical care.
The level crossing, between Reefton and Greymouth, was controlled by flashing lights and bells that were operating correctly as the train approached, KiwiRail spokesman David Miller said.
The train was hauling 30 empty coal wagons and the southbound vehicle struck one of the wagons in the middle of the train, Miller said.
"Our driver was not immediately aware that the collision had occurred."
Miller said it was fortunate the outcome was not more serious.
KiwiRail's locomotives were painted in high visibility colours with lights at the front, two of which flash whenever the horn is sounded as a train approaches a level crossing.
"The public need to be aware that trains can come at any time, and in any direction, and always look and listen for trains.
"Our message to motorists using a level crossing is that they must slow down and be prepared to stop, and they must treat them as they would any other road intersection.
"Motorists must not cross while flashing lights and bells are operating even if a train has crossed," Miller said.
TrackSAFE NZ manager Megan Drayton said it was disappointing to hear about another collision on the West Coast, particularly given efforts by the trust and KiwiRail to raise awareness around level crossing safety.
"This could very easily have been another fatality," she said.
The trust urged motorists to stay focused around railway tracks and always obey signs and signals at level crossings.
"Level crossing collisions are preventable, if motorists follow the road rules," Drayton said.
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