Rail crossing incidents spark safety reminder

ESTHER ASHBY-COVENTRY
Last updated 05:00 24/01/2014

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Railway crossing signals need to be treated like traffic lights by motorists, a senior Timaru police officer says, after two collisions at South Canterbury crossings on Wednesday.

A car and train collided on Timaru's Heaton St crossing and at Pleasant Point an SUV hit the vintage Model T Ford railcar while crossing the tracks at Russell St. Both motorists escaped injury.

Yesterday a car was hit by a train in a serious crash on the West Coast.

A KiwiRail spokeswoman said there had been five close calls reported by train drivers around the country this month, despite warning bells and alarms.

She said in some of the incidents drivers in queues at crossings ignored warning systems and overtook the other stationary vehicles, narrowly missing oncoming trains.

More data on the incidents was being collated by KiwiRail and would be released at the end of January. "Wednesday's incidents are a timely reminder for motorists to heed the level crossing alarms, never enter a crossing if they can see a train approaching, but be patient and wait for it to pass.

"Trains are heavy and often travelling faster than [they appear to be], and take a very long time to stop," the spokeswoman said.

Timaru Senior Sergeant Mark Offen said railway bells, lights and in some cases barrier arms should be taken as seriously as traffic lights. "Trains can't take evasive action, they can only go in the direction of the rails they are on, so the onus is on motorists to obey the signals," Mr Offen said.

He was unsure why the motorist at Pleasant Point failed to see the railcar and investigations were continuing. One theory was the driver was not expecting the Model T Ford to be running on a weekday.

Complacency was often the problem for drivers at road stop signs as well, Mr Offen said.

For example, directly opposite Timaru police station, at the intersection from Barnard St on to North St, many drivers failed to stop.

"Drivers need to make sure the way is clear on intersections and railway crossings. It's about safety," Mr Offen said.

The Connoor Rd-Otipua Rd intersection was also subject to "roll-throughs" and confusion.

"Whoever is on a stop sign needs to stop and whoever is on the give way sign has the right of way," Mr Offen said. He hoped the recent railway incidents would serve as a warning to all motorists to take more care.

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- The Timaru Herald

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