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Urgent recommendations follow Melling rail accident

Urgent recommendations follow Melling rail accident

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission has made four urgent recommendations to KiwiRail following the accident two months ago (27 May 2014) when a Matangi passenger train collided with a stop block at Melling Station, Lower Hutt. Two of the 12 people on board suffered minor injuries, there was substantial damage to the train and stop block, and overhead electricity wires were brought down when a power pole behind the stop block was broken.

An interim report of the Commission’s continuing inquiry released this morning (10am, Thursday, 24 July 2014) describes how the train driver rounded the final bend to the station and, realising the train was not going to stop in time, alerted passengers to brace themselves for the impact that followed. The train’s wheels slid several times on the apparently wet track as the brakes were applied.

Data from the train event recorder for this accident showed that the braking system responded correctly to the driver’s control inputs, the report says. A post–accident static brake test confirmed that the air pressure in the brake pipe and at the brake cylinders was correct, and that the wheel-slide protection control valves were operating correctly.

However, due to the damage sustained to the forward bogie in the collision, tests of the complete braking system had yet to be conducted. “Consequently, it cannot yet be determined whether the train’s complete braking system was functioning as it was designed to when the train was approaching Melling Station,” the report says.

“The performance and operation of the accident train’s brake system, and the driver training provided by KiwiRail for the Matangi trains are both lines of continuing inquiry,” Deputy Chief Commissioner Helen Cull QC said when releasing the report.

“The accident happened just as the rising sun’s rays hit the track and humidity in the area had reached its peak,” Helen Cull said. “Other lines of inquiry are looking at the effects of humidity on adhesion between the rail and the train wheels, potential indicators of slippery conditions, and the ability of Matangi trains to stop on wet or greasy track.”

The report outlines how the driver had eleven and a half years’ experience driving metropolitan trains in the Wellington Region, and had been on the Matangi trains for about three years. After the accident he was tested in accordance with KiwiRail’s standard policy for drugs and alcohol. “His urine sample returned a reading for the active ingredient in cannabis which experts have told us was consistent with a non-chronic user smoking a cannabis cigarette two to three days earlier,” Helen Cull said. “The issue of whether the driver’s performance was impaired by cannabis is a further line of inquiry.”

The Commission’s four urgent recommendations to KiwiRail have all been accepted. These concern: restricting station approach speeds at Melling and any similar terminal stations, upgrading the stop block design to better absorb collision, and shifting any poles carrying overhead wires from behind the end of rail lines.

“The implementation of these recommendations should significantly reduce the chance of any further similar recurrence while our inquiry continues,” Helen Cull said.

The Commission hoped to wrap up its inquiry by March 2015 in conjunction with its separate inquiry into an earlier lower-speed collision of a Matangi train with the Melling stop block in April 2013.

ENDS

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