Level crossing near-miss - TAIC calls for better risk management

18 Oct 2023
Fig1 from report. still image from CCTV, depicting the incident. An urban low-level light industrail area. Selwyn street is in the centre of the view from foreground to distance. The level crossing is in the middle. A bus has clearly just crossed the level crossing, travelling away from the camera view. A locomotive approaches the bus, approximately twelve metres away
Fig 1 from the TAIC report

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) is calling on KiwiRail to work with road controlling authorities to improve risk management for unplanned level-crossing disconnections, following a near-miss between a bus and a locomotive in Christchurch in August 2022.

TAIC has just released its report into the incident at the Selwyn Street level crossing, where a passenger bus came within 12 metres of a locomotive. 

The Selwyn Street level crossing had been disconnected on Saturday 6 August 2022 when a fault could not be repaired that day. 

The Chief Investigator of Accidents, Naveen Kozhuppakalam says KiwiRail’s procedures did not adequately address the risk posed by leaving the level crossing unattended.

“The council, as the road controlling authority, wasn’t informed of the fault at the level crossing and wasn’t consulted on potential risk controls, because there was no requirement in KiwiRail’s procedures to do so for an unplanned disconnection.

“As a result, no form of temporary traffic management was put in place until after the near miss between the bus and train was reported on Monday 8 August 2022.”

A Go Bus-operated Christchurch Metro passenger bus drove across the Selwyn Street level crossing as a KiwiRail locomotive approached. The bus passed approximately 12 metres in front of the locomotive. There was no collision, no damage and no injuries.

The report records that when the Selwyn Street level crossing alarm system was disconnected from its power source the barrier arms were raised and secured and bags were placed over the alarm lights to show they were out of service. 

Train control imposed a 10 kilometre per hour speed restriction on any rail traffic approaching Selwyn Street and the other affected level crossings. 

“This wasn’t adequate in the circumstances. Although the speed restriction reduced the momentum of the locomotive, there was still a higher potential for a collision with a road user entering the level crossing without taking adequate observations.”

TAIC has recommended that KiwiRail adequately address the risk posed by disconnecting level-crossing protections, whether planned or unplanned; and work with road controlling authorities to develop processes for notification, risk assessment and traffic management measures for unplanned level-crossing disconnections.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission opens an inquiry when it believes the circumstances of an accident or incident have - or are likely to have - significant implications for transport safety, or when the inquiry may allow the Commission to make findings or recommendations to improve transport safety.

The Commission's purpose is to improve transport safety by avoiding repeat accidents, rather than by ascribing blame