In the year to the end of June, there were 40 collisions involving trains across the national rail network, and 10 people were killed.
As part of Rail Safety Week 2023, KiwiRail and TrackSAFE Foundation New Zealand have released sobering figures along with a new campaign to remind people to look for trains when approaching any rail level crossing.
Level crossings are an everyday part of motoring in Clutha district, and Otago-Southland accounted for 41 out of a national total of 345 rail incidents, which comprised 35 near misses and six actual collisions.
‘‘Collisions with trains are unforgiving — the average freight train weighs well over 1000 tonnes and cannot swerve or stop quickly.
‘‘Locomotive engineers can blow the horn and put on emergency brakes, but there is often little else they can do,’’ KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said.
Near misses have steadily increased since a low of 150 in 2021.
‘‘It’s deeply troubling to see that all collisions — and 77% of near misses — were at crossings that have flashing lights, bells or barrier arms,’’ Mr Reidy said.
‘‘Sadly, 10 people lost their lives in collisions with trains over the past year . . . It’s very worrying to see near misses at level crossings continue to rise.
‘‘One second more and a near miss could be a collision — resulting in serious injury or death. People just can’t afford to take that risk.’’
This year’s Rail Safety Week campaign has introduced ‘‘Steely Stan’’, a New Zealand cowboy with a simple message — to stop and take time for a careful look in both directions at railway crossings.
TrackSAFE Foundation NZ manager Megan Drayton said while there was a lighthearted aspect to the campaign, the message was very serious.
‘‘This is about saving lives. The increasing number of near misses . . . and a greater proportion of collisions at level crossings that have active protection is a real cause for concern. It shows some motorists and pedestrians are still being complacent or are taking unnecessary risks,’’ she said.
‘‘Steely Stan will demonstrate the correct behaviour around crossings, and then keep a helpful eye on everyone. He’s promoting a simple message: Steely Stare. Steely Stare. All clear.’’