Rotten rail sleepers may pose risk
KiwiRail is rejecting claims that a "safety nightmare" is emerging on New Zealand's tracks because of rotting wood.
The Rail & Maritime Transport Union is calling for KiwiRail to reinspect about 160,000 Peruvian sleepers that are installed in the national rail network.
It says an inspection of a section of track in the Buller Gorge this month highlighted damage to a significant number of sleepers on a curved track.
RMTU South Island organiser John Kerr said while many of the Peruvian sleepers looked fine, they were actually rotting from the inside.
"A piece on a straight bit is low risk but on a corner it is high risk. "The worst possible thing that could happen is that the track fails when a loaded passenger train is on it."
Kerr said a 10kmh speed restriction was immediately placed on the affected section of the track in the gorge. But the problem was that the equipment KiwiRail had used to check the sleepers was not working properly.
Kerr said KiwiRail had agreed to switch to a new process of checking sleepers, but the union wanted all Peruvian sleepers to be rechecked.
He warned it was a "safety nightmare" waiting to happen if they were not checked.
KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn said the sleepers posed no safety risk and the company would never leave "things unsafe".
He said concerns about equipment had been raised so they were looking into it.
They had re-checked sleepers at random with the new process and were satisfied there was high correlation between those results and the previous ones, he said.
"We never take safety trivially. We will be continuing to check all of our sleepers." Quinn said some of the Peruvian sleepers were prone to rotting from the inside, so they would all be checked regularly to ensure they were "doing the job" and if not, they would be removed.