A man who died after being hit by a steam train on the West Coast was standing in the middle of the tracks taking photos, witnesses say.
Passengers on the Mainline Steam excursion journey said the man was given "plenty of warning".
Police are yet to name him, but The Press understands he was a middle-aged resident of small West Coast town Kaiata.
He was taking photos of the Ka942 steam train near Kokiri, inland from Greymouth, when he was struck about 6pm Saturday.
The West Coast NZCC Rescue Helicopter transferred him to Grey Base Hospital with serious head and leg injuries and he died shortly after.
He was among a group of people taking photos of the locomotive, which was doing a return trip between Christchurch and Greymouth during the weekend.
Mainline Steam operations manager Michael Tolich said it appeared the man was standing on the tracks trying to take a photograph of the train and did not step off the line.
"I think the thing is that people need to understand is that tracks are for trains. They are not for people to walk on. You should stay off the railway line," he said.
"This is a tragedy because someone didn't do that."
Two Mainline Steam passengers, who did not wish to be named, said the KiwiRail driver of the heritage train did "everything by the book".
"I feel for the deceased's family . . . but [the man] was trespassing and he shouldn't have been on the tracks," the Auckland woman said as she disembarked in Christchurch last night.
She said thetrain came around a corner and the driver blew the whistle when he saw the man.
"There were two whistles but he still didn't move," she said.
"You can get a good picture without putting your life in danger."
Passengers only knew of the accident when the train stopped. Passengers were told what had happened and the train was delayed for about two hours while emergency services attended the scene.
"It was not the driver's fault by any stretch of the imagination," a male passenger said.
Ann Knipe, who had been following the train to photograph it, said she knew something was wrong when the train's smoke turned from black to white. Shortly after, ambulance sirens could be heard.
"When you hear that news and you are further down the track it gives you a horrible sick feeling," she said.
"The train's big, it's huge, it's spectacular. You don't have to get that close to photograph it."
Megan Drayton, of the Chris Cairns Foundation, which promotes rail safety organisation, said the incident was a tragedy and highlighted the enormous risk that people place themselves under when they trespass on railway lines.
"We urge the New Zealand public to remember that it is dangerous and illegal to be on railway tracks at any place other than a designated level crossing."
Tolich said the train's staff, including the driver, had all been offered counselling. However, at this stage they were coping well.
Grant Craig, president of Federation of Rail Organisations of New Zealand, said the last fatal steam train accident he could remember was in the 1990s.
"It's an absolute rarity because rail travel is inherently safe and the heritage operators around the country have an incredible track record."
He said KiwiRail's policy was to take the drivers off the job until they felt comfortable to return to work.
Greymouth police are investigating the incident.
- © Fairfax NZ News