Rail Safety: level crossing risks demand coordinated solutions

13 Aug 2021

Level crossing safety is about more than the necessity of road users and pedestrians following the rules and looking out for trains, says Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) Chief Executive Martin Sawyers.

“The Commission’s Watchlist item on safety for pedestrians and vehicles at level crossings shows that safety depends on infrastructure, technology, systems and rules all working together,” said Mr Sawyers. “Any change in one aspect means planners must consider the others.”  

TAIC inquired into a tragic pedestrian fatality at a level crossing in Morningside in 2015. A fenced path had been designed to ensure pedestrians would face approaching trains before crossing the tracks. 

“The technology was updated with new signalling that allowed trains to run both ways, but the fenced path design wasn’t updated, and a pedestrian stepped out in front of a moving train,” said Mr Sawyers.

On safety for road vehicles crossing rail lines, the Commission is calling for improvements to road profile design, T-junction road layouts, and sight lines. 

The Commission has investigated incidents and accidents where road-legal vehicles got stuck on level crossings due to the profile or camber of the road; where longer vehicles are at risk if their tail end hangs over the rail corridor when they are waiting at a T-junction to turn onto a main road; and where overgrown foliage blocks the view up and down the rail track.

“We’re glad the recently announced Rail Network Investment Programme has given Waka Kotahi and other road control authorities together with KiwiRail greater long term funding certainty to plan and build level crossing upgrades,” said Mr Sawyers. 

“It’s vital that they coordinate to ensure the whole interface between rail and surrounding infrastructure continues to protect pedestrians and everyone on board trains and road vehicles.“

Transport Accident Investigation Commission is an independent standing commission of inquiry that investigates Air, Maritime and Rail accidents and incidents with a view to avoiding similar occurrences in the future, rather than to ascribe blame. 

The TAIC Watch List draws attention of regulators, operators, the Government and transport sector workers to transport-related concerns of high social, economic or environmental risk; and systemic transport safety risks.