August 18 2017, updated 7:09pm

Staff 'felt pressure' to keep train going despite fire

Last updated 05:00 07/01/2011

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Train staff felt under pressure to keep the Wellington service on time despite a fire causing a carriage full of passengers to fill with smoke, an interim report has found.

The draft report of a KiwiRail investigation into the fire on a Melling commuter train that left one passenger suffering from smoke inhalation, reveals that a series of problems contributed to the incident – including time pressure, misdiagnosis, lack of communication and inadequate staff training.

The fire broke out on October 11, under a train carrying 292 passengers.

It caused delays for about 5000 other passengers.

A brake failure on the 7.38am train from Petone forced it to stop near Rocky Pt, between Petone and Ngauranga stations, while crew fixed a fault. It stopped again near Westpac Stadium when an electrical fire broke out and the carriage filled with smoke.

Staff used extinguishers, and the flames were contained underneath the train, which was pushed into Wellington railway station at 8.35am. Afterwards, passengers who had been in the carriage over the fire complained that there was a lack of communication, and that no-one had helped evacuate them.

The interim report obtained by The Dominion Post, is in a draft form, but labels time pressures as a factor.

"Staff are well aware that timeliness of trains is a key concern. As a result the staff on [the train] would likely have felt pressure to keep a fully laden train going to Wellington, to avoid delays to the passengers on that service and the network overall," it says.

The problem was misdiagnosed by staff, who assumed it was a brake problem rather than the resistor grid overheating, as was probably the case, it said.

"Staff on the train appear to have formed and maintained the view that brake issues were the cause of fumes and smoke. ... As a result their response was to not treat the situation as serious or critical."

The draft report lists seven recommendations, including improving training, because some staff had not had scenario-based emergency training for seven years. It recommended increasing the frequency to two-yearly.

Staff should also be reminded that safety came over timeliness, and a communications review was called for.

Regular train commuter Paul Swain said that was not good enough. The Greater Wellington regional councillor said he had a meeting with KiwiRail after seeing the interim report.

"I want to see more urgency in staff safety training and on-board communications. The officials have advised they will try to address my concerns in the final report."

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But KiwiRail passenger general manager Deborah Hume said she was disappointed the interim report had become public, and the final report would be much more detailed.

"[The draft] lacks a number of key facts and recommendations. The final report, which is still being worked on, follows a thorough investigation and will contain more comprehensive information and actions for improvement."

The final report's recommendations would be acted on, and other safety improvements had already been made, she said.

- The Dominion Post

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