Too many questions over rail crossing safety

GRIEVING: Christina Clements, left, holds a picture of her husband truck driver, Cory Clements with their son Blake, while Cory’s sister Sharleen Oxenham offers support.
GRIEVING: Christina Clements, left, holds a picture of her husband truck driver, Cory Clements with their son Blake, while Cory’s sister Sharleen Oxenham offers support.

The sister of a man killed when the truck he was driving was struck by a passenger train near Rangiriri has tearfully told how the "caring, dedicated dad" was torn from their lives.

The death of Cory James Clements, 28, has left his family distressed, confused and demanding to know how a cautious and experienced driver died at a level crossing in a state of "disrepair".

However a senior KiwiRail official says the crossing was in an acceptable condition at the time.

At mum Christine Clements' Matamata home yesterday, Mr Clements' older sister Sharleen Oxenham burst into tears as she spoke about her younger brother "Scribbles".

The husband and father of three-year-old son Blake died when the articulated low loader he was driving collided with the Northern Explorer train, which was carrying 108 people, on Te Onetea Rd on February 27.

Against a backdrop of flowers, photos of Mr Clements, his motorbike helmets and riding gloves, Mrs Oxenham said her brother was devoted to his wife, Christina, and loved his job.

"He had that trucker image, but he was just a big softy. Family was everything to Cory."

But she also said she was "disgusted" with the way KiwiRail had handled the fallout from her brother's death.

"We haven't had a simple ‘Sorry for your loss' . . . It just feels like they're trying to sweep it under the covers."

In particular, the family have questioned the state of the crossing's surface prior to the incident.

"The concerns we have as a family is that the tracks were in disrepair," Mrs Oxenham said.

That view is shared by Rangiriri resident Ron Miller, who lives about 70 metres from the train crossing and heard the crash.

Mr Miller was quickly on the phone to the emergency services and was the first on the scene.

When he got to the crossing Mr Miller said he saw Mr Clements on the road, covered in diesel from the truck engine which had been hurled about 35 metres into a paddock by the impact. "I think he was either climbing out [of the cab] or on the ground [when he was killed]."

Mr Miller said visibility to the north - around a slight bend - was good and would be even better elevated in a truck. The real problem was the crossing's "sub-standard" metal seal he said.

"To traverse it in my little car - six weeks ago - it was quite difficult. But I must say over time it was slowly packing down and it's become easier."

He said he experienced a "sinking feeling" when he crossed it in his vehicle.

Another Te Onetea Rd resident, who declined to be named, said the surface was "a little bit soft". However, KiwiRail said maintenance repairs were completed on the crossing on December 15 last year and the metal surface "reinstated".

Infrastructure and engineering general manager Rick van Barneveld said the crossing was reviewed on January 29, but deemed to be "fit for purpose".

He said KiwiRail had no recorded complaints about its condition. Immediately following the crash KiwiRail made repairs to the crossing and both Mr Miller and the neighbour said the crossing's surface had improved since.

Mr van Barneveld said the repairs on the day of the crash related to damage caused by the accident itself.

"There are many factors to consider and we do not believe it is appropriate to comment in depth while investigations are underway."

Mrs Oxenham said the family wanted bells and barriers at all crossings, and were making a stand because they wanted to prevent another family from going through similar pain.

"If there were bells or barriers, of course he's not going to go over it." 

Waikato Times