Police investigating the deaths of two men riding on the roof of a freight train believe a railway footbridge in suburban Christchurch caused their fatal injuries.
North Canterbury men Cole Higginson, 25, of Amberley, and Nicholas Charles Upritchard, 23, of Rangiora, are believed to have died from severe head injuries on a Christchurch-bound freight train from Picton late on Wednesday night.
Their bodies were discovered on the roof of a curtain-sided freight wagon in Christchurch's Middleton shunting yard by a Toll Rail forklift driver about 3am yesterday – three hours after the train arrived at the yard.
Investigation head Detective Senior Sergeant John Rae said today it appeared a rail footbridge near Blighs Rd in Bryndwr suburb caused the men's fatal injuries.
"It's just less than half a metre between the top of the wagon and the lower part of the bridge," Mr Rae said.
"That's the (bridge) that's closest to the railway wagons that we've been able to establish," he said.
The bridge showed no signs of damage.
"But given the chaps were wearing hoodies because of the cold, we wouldn't expect to find hair or anything on it."
Mr Rae said if the train was travelling at its usual speed of about 80kph the injuries would have been caused instantly.
A post-mortem examination on one of the men's bodies was completed today and police were talking to the second man's family about the other post-mortem.
Mr Rae said police had almost completed their inquiries and the deaths would be referred to the coroner.
It was "a matter for the coroner" whether a public or closed inquest was held.
Mr Rae said it appeared Mr Higginson and Mr Upritchard probably boarded the moving train somewhere near Waipara, possibly at a gradient or corner where the train would have to reduce its speed.
"To get on a train travelling at 80kph or whatever would be pretty difficult. So you're really risking limb and life just to get on the thing."
Mr Rae said the men's families had been unable to help with any reason why they would be riding on the roof of a train, or where they might have boarded it.
Police were appealing publicly for further information.
"If any friends or witnesses can help us as to why they were on the train, or if they'd done it before, we'd be pleased to hear from them."
Mr Higginson was the son of former All Blacks lock Graeme Higginson.
Former All Blacks coach Alex Wyllie, a friend of the Higginsons, told The Press newspaper the family was in shock.
The deaths have highlighted what may be an emerging trend. Railway track operator Ontrack said there had been three cases of unwanted passengers on freight trains in the last six months.
"It has come as a surprise that it is a little more common than we expected," Ontrack spokesman Kevin Ramshaw told the New Zealand Herald.
"I don't know there is a pattern. There are people that do it for a dare. There are people who feel it is a cheap way to get about."
Standard unleaded 91 octane petrol surged to over $2.12 a litre yesterday.
"I don't think we have got to the stage yet where, like in the American Depression, people relied on freight trains as a form of cheap transport," Mr Ramshaw said.
Both Toll and Ontrack have been pushing a safety message after a spate of fatal incidents at level crossings.
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