TAIC final report – fatal level crossing accident train and car, Morrinsville

25 Nov 2021
Satellite image of the level crossing annotated to show path of car and train, and position of stop-go  traffic conroller
Simplified Fig 3 from the Final report

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) is calling for people planning and implementing roadworks near level crossings anywhere in New Zealand to always consider the risks of the rail crossing as well as the roadworks. 

The call comes in TAIC’s report on a fatal accident in which a freight train impacted a car at about 4am on 7 December 2019 at a level crossing on State Highway 26 near Morrinsville. The train was traveling at about 70kp/h, had no time to stop, struck the car, and took about 500m to come to a halt. The car was destroyed and its two occupants suffered fatal injuries. 

Chief Investigator of Accidents Harald Hendel says the level crossing was in the middle of a complicated roadworks operation.

“The car had moved off from a stop/go sign, drove through the roadworks area and then on to the level crossing,” said Mr Hendel. “This was despite the level crossing warning bells and lights that had been automatically activated by the approaching train

“It’s likely the traffic controller’s ‘go’ signal led the car driver to believe they were cleared to drive through the entire roadworks area, which included the level crossing,” said Mr Hendel

“The potential confusion worsened on approach to the level crossing, where a contractor vehicle with a flashing amber light was parked next to the crossing’s flashing warning lights.”

Mr Hendel says the Commission identified two key system-level safety issues.

“First, planning for roadworks around level crossings must identify all risks to road and rail vehicles.

“But in the case of this accident, the traffic management plan approved for this roadworks focused on keeping the road crew safe from road vehicles and overlooked the need to keep road users safe from trains.

“And second, work in the rail corridor must only be done with the awareness of the rail access provider.

“But in in the case of this accident, road and rail users were at more risk at the crossing because the roadworks contractor didn’t ask KiwiRail for permission to work in the rail corridor. This meant there was no rail safety oversight by KiwiRail and no special measures for trains on that section of track.

To help ensure traffic management plans for roadworks near rail crossings meet relevant safety requirements, TAIC has issued two recommendations. The first is for Waka Kotahi to check that agencies delegated to approve traffic management plans on state highways are doing it correctly. The second is for local authorities to ensure that KiwiRail and other rail access providers are consulted as part of the traffic management planning process for local roads.