Railway death prompts call for longer fence
MARYANNE TWENTYMAN AND CHRIS GARDNER
Matamata-Piako mayor Hugh Vercoe has vowed to do everything he can to prevent another railway tragedy like the one that claimed the life of Matamata College student Zak Lang this week.
Yesterday students from the college gathered at the railway line where the Year 11 student was fatally hit by a train on Wednesday. The students cried, held hands and hugged as they struggled to come to terms with his death.
In a statement provided to the Waikato Times by a family friend, Zak's parents Tania and Ian said their son was "a neat kid, a typical 15-year-old teenage boy with a cheeky nature and smile".
Their son was reportedly skipping class with two friends when he was killed by the single railway locomotive. The incident happened on a stretch of tree-shaded track running parallel to Firth Street shortly before 3pm, nearly half an hour before school finished.
A Ministry of Education trauma team is working with College counsellors, support staff and students and special rooms had been established for students to go to for support.
Yesterday the mayor said the council would be calling a meeting with KiwiRail to discuss the incident and what could be done to prevent further tragedies.
"It concerns me that predicted freight is going to be increasing, they won't be slowing down for Matamata - [freight trains] will get longer and faster," Mr Vercoe said.
KiwiRail Senior Communications Advisor Jenni Austin said the company ran about eight services a day through Matamata, known as the Kinleith branch, where the maximum speed for locomotives was 70kmh.
"Our thoughts at this time are with the family and friends of the boy killed in the incident.
"Incidents such as these are very distressing, particularly for our staff involved," she said.
"Trains are heavy and take a long time to stop, so there is little more train crews can do except pull on the brakes and sound the horn and hope for the best," she said.
KiwiRail has installed a length of fenceline through the heart of Matamata in the last 12 months to keep pedestrians away from the tracks.
The new fenceline stopped before Matamata College so Mr Vercoe said there would be discussions to work out a plan to have the fenceline extended beyond Swap Park, an area of council-owned land running between Firth St and Burwood Rd.
Mr Vercoe's stance on the railway issue will we welcomed by parent Travis Ferguson who was alarmed to see students still walking along and crossing the railway lines yesterday.
"I was surprised to see kids crossing the tracks and I do think it needs to be addressed by not only the school but the entire community," he said.
Mr Ferguson said he hoped the speed of trains would be reviewed as they passed through town.
"I also think that they should look at sounding the train's horn as they pass by the college."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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