Training drivers: there’s a loco ahead

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Police officers, Ashburton mayor Donna Favel, rail officials and Selwyn MP Amy Adams at the new life-size train billboard at Overdale.

A locomotive-sized billboard near the Hatfield/Overdale Road railway level crossing south of Rakaia has been unveiled and is the first South Island location for a train awareness campaign called Expect Trains.

The campaign has been developed and funded by the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), KiwiRail and TrackSAFE NZ with the aim of getting people off autopilot when crossing rural railway tracks.

It has previously featured at North Island level crossings.

The locomotive-sized billboard and other signs are placed near high risk, selected rural railway level crossings to act as a visual reminder for drivers to slow down and to check for real trains before they cross the tracks.

Like many rural level crossings, the Rakaia level crossing at Hatfield Overdale Road is protected by a Stop sign only and has no flashing lights, bells or barrier arms.

Brett Aldridge, senior manager for rail safety at NZTA, said the campaign was the result of research that showed that local people could be complacent around railway level crossings that they used regularly.

Local drivers often underestimated how dangerous railway level crossings could be, and while train movements might be infrequent, trains were “huge pieces of equipment and absolutely unforgiving”.

“Complacency can lead to risky behaviour like failing to carefully look for trains before crossing railway tracks.

“We really want drivers in rural areas like Rakaia to be aware that failing to check carefully for that train could be a fatal oversight. These collisions also have a devastating effect upon train drivers and we are hoping the life-sized train billboard will alert people to the risk,” said Mr Aldridge.

The billboard will be stationed at Rakaia for several months.

The Hatfield Overdale Road railway level crossing has had two collisions, resulting in two people dying, one person being serious injured, one person with a minor injury, and one near collision between a train and a vehicle in the last eight years.

There are approximately 11 planned trains a day and approximately 150 vehicles a day passing through the crossing, which was upgraded from Give Way signs to Stop signs in 2016.

On average there are around 22 collisions per year between trains and motor vehicles on public road crossings.

A laden freight train travelling at 80kph can take more than a kilometre to stop.

Selwyn MP Amy Adams said she had seen too many near misses and accidents at crossings.