Fatal West Coast crossings still sign only

SARAH-JANE O'CONNOR
Last updated 13:35 20/06/2014
west coast train crash
JASON BLAIR
FATAL CROSSING: Reefton couple Robert James Jacobs, 66, and Marieta Ocba Jacobs, 43, died on May 21 when their car was hit by a coal train at a crossing north of Reefton.

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KiwiRail has upgraded a West Coast railway level crossing, but there are still 65 crossings in the region only controlled by signs.

There have been fatal accidents at two of those crossings this year. 

Jane Sluys, 56, died on January 23 when her car was hit by a coal train at a crossing with Swamp Creek Rd, and Reefton couple Robert James Jacobs, 66, and Marieta Ocba Jacobs, 43, died on May 21 when their car was hit by a coal train at a crossing on Landing Creek Rd.

The accidents happened within two kilometres of each other.

Over the past decade, more than half of all accidents at railway crossings occurred at crossings where there were only signs, with no bells, lights or barrier arms.

KiwiRail has 97 public-road level crossings on the West Coast. Five have barriers plus lights and bells, 27 have lights and bells, but the remaining 65 only have stop or give-way signs.

KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy today visited the latest upgraded crossing on SH67 to reiterate safety messages around the crossings.

"Motorists should always be prepared to stop when approaching a level crossing and look in both directions to check the way is clear," he said.

"What most people don't realise is that it can take a train up to a kilometre to come to a stop."

KiwiRail uses the Australian Level Crossing Assessment Model (ALCAM) to evaluate risk and identify crossings that require safety improvements. 

There are 63 road crossings and 110 pedestrian crossings on KiwiRail's priority list for improvements. It aimed to complete eight major upgrades annually - such upgrades could mean adding lights and bells at a crossing currently controlled by signs, or barrier arms at crossings that already have lights and bells.

The Swamp Creek and Landings Creek roads crossings, where Sluys and the Jacobs died, both have low traffic volumes so they do not rate highly on the ALCAM risk assessment. 

Neither of the crossings were being considered for safety upgrades.

RAILWAY CROSSING DEATHS IN 2014

- Jane Sluys, 56, was hit by a coal train at a crossing with Swamp Creek Rd near Reefton on January 23. She died in hospital about a week later. She was driving from her home on Swamp Creek Rd. The level crossing has a stop sign and railway crossing signs.

- Cory Clements, 28, from Hamilton, died on February 27 when his truck was hit by a passenger train in Waikato. The Te Onetea Rd crossing has a stop sign and railway crossing signs.

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- Reefton couple Robert James Jacobs, 66, and Marieta Ocba Jacobs, 43, died on May 21 when their car was hit by a coal train at a crossing north of Reefton. The Landing Creek Rd crossing was less than two kilometres from where Jane Sluys died four months earlier. The crossing has a give way sign and railway crossing signs.

In 2013 there were 18 accidents at level crossings - two motorists and one pedestrian died.

- The Press

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