Train drivers are experiencing an alarming spate of near collisions with motorists at crossings, particularly in the South Island.
KiwiRail and police are urging motorists to obey level crossing warnings after 19 near collisions have already been reported nationwide this year, where motorists ignored safety measures like flashing lights and bells, and crossed in front of approaching trains.
KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn was urging people to heed warnings, be patient, and not risk crossing in front of a train.
''We are horrified to think motorists would deliberately put themselves and any passengers they may have in such grave danger. There is no journey so important that it can't wait a couple of minutes.''
In four of those incidents motorists deliberately drove around other vehicles already stopped at the crossing in order to cross, and one motorist even had to swerve to avoid the train. In other incident a car ignored flashing lights and bells and passed just 10 metres in front of the train.
"Trains are large and heavy and can be travelling faster that they appear and simply cannot stop quickly. ''There is nothing our train drivers can do when confronted with a situation like this other than to sound their horn, and hope for the best. It is a very distressing situation for them.''
In 2013, KiwiRail recorded 107 near collisions with vehicles at level crossings - 43 per cent at crossings with flashing lights and bells operating and 40 per cent with half arm barriers operating. In 2012, there were 154 near collisions reported, 83 per cent of which were at crossings with active protection.
Police inspector Mark Stables said level crossing alarms and signs were there for the safety of motorists and it was a traffic offence to ignore them.
"All level crossings have some protection. Whether the crossing has flashing lights and bells or a Give Way or Stop sign, motorists should approach and behave at level crossings in the same way as they would a road intersection."
Manager of rail safety charity TrackSAFE NZ, Megan Drayton, said a disproportionate 63 per cent of ''reckless and impatient'' near collisions occurred in the South Island. Five out of the 19 occurred on the railway line between Rolleston and Greymouth, and four on the railway line between Christchurch and Invercargill.
''We urge motorists in the South Island particularly to obey the warning signs at crossings, and never take the risk of trying to beat a train across the crossing.''
- © Fairfax NZ News
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