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Joint Initiative To Target Rail Crossing Safety

13 June

Tranz Rail is proposing the formation of a multi-party Level Crossing Safety Forum to further improve the safety of New Zealand's 1500 level crossings.

The forum would involve Tranz Rail, LTSA, Police, Transit New Zealand and Local Government.

"We've already had a positive response to the idea from the LTSA and this is a model used widely overseas to bring a complete approach to the difficulties surrounding level crossing safety," says Tranz Rail's General Manager Health, Safety and Environment, Jeff Weber. "The Forum will focus on three E's - education, engineering and enforcement - to improve New Zealand's safety record in this area. We are seeking a first meeting of the Forum within a month.

"The Forum concept is an ideal way to capture both the expertise and funding available to all these organisations and apply them, through one organisation, to target this often emotional community and road safety issue."

Mr Weber said collisions at level crossings were reducing but the Forum Group was a way of further reducing the number of crossing incidents.

"Last year there were 24 collisions at level crossings - the lowest since 1987 and half the rate of 1996 - and indications are this year that we will have a similar or slightly lower number of collisions," says Mr Weber.

"Those numbers reflect a lot of work that has gone into identifying accident black spots, prioritising level crossings for further control measures such as barrier arms and ongoing driver education.

"I believe a Forum such as this, with all the key agencies involved, will take safety at crossings a step further. For example the LTSA have recently run advertising campaigns focusing on level crossing safety while Tranz Rail also has its own education programmes. It makes sense to combine those resources.

"Tranz Rail, the LTSA and Transit have access to some of the best road and engineering skills in the country and overseas. Combining those talents can only further improve design of crossings while we both have access to improved technology.

"It could be that something as simple as taking the horns off the trains and putting them on the crossings at driver height may make a difference. The Forum would help us identify those sorts of changes, finance them and monitor the results."

Mr Weber said bringing Police onto the Forum would also assist in enforcement and education of drivers

He said indications were that several incidents this year were the result of poor judgement by motor vehicle drivers, most notably an incident when a petrol tanker ignored warning bells and lights at a rail crossing.

"The truck stopped at a give way sign on the highway with his load of fuel parked on the rail line and only the vigilance of the loco driver, who stopped the train just two metres from the tanker, prevented a major accident.

"Late last year police in a small rural community ticketed 27 drivers in less than two hours for failing to stop at a controlled crossing."

Mr Weber said the Forum would educate drivers to modify that kind of behaviour, enforce the rules around crossings, and look for the engineering solutions around design and technology that will help further reduce level crossing incidents.

"There is no silver bullet solution but I believe this type of Forum is a significant step in the right direction."


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