A joint NZ Transport Agency, KiwiRail and TrackSAFE NZ campaign targeted at improving driver awareness at railway level crossings has been installed in the Rangitikei district today. The ‘Expect a train’ campaign aims to get local drivers off ‘autopilot’ mode when crossing rural railway tracks.
The campaign includes a locomotive-sized billboard at the Union Line level crossing (off Wanganui Road, near Marton) and three approach warning signs at Neuman’s Line level crossing. The billboard and signs act as a visual reminder for drivers to slow down and check for real trains before they cross the tracks.
Like many rural level crossings, the Union Line and Neuman’s Line level crossing is protected by Stop signs only, without flashing lights, bells or barrier arms. Local drivers who use the level crossing frequently can become complacent about stopping, and previous experience is that they don’t normally come across a train.
Debbie Despard, Rail Safety Manager from the NZ Transport Agency says “Research conducted to support the campaign indicated that local drivers can become overly familiar and often don’t perceive the risk of rural level crossings to be very high. This complacency can lead to risky behaviour like failing to carefully look for trains before crossing railway tracks. We really want drivers in rural areas to sit up and take notice of level crossings and the life-sized train billboard should make them do just that.”
“Services on some rural train lines can be infrequent so local drivers might often cross at a level crossing and see an empty track. This may lead to autopilot behaviour where they fail to look properly in both directions to see if a train is coming,” says Ms Despard.
TrackSAFE NZ Manager Megan Drayton says the national rail safety charitable trust supports any initiative that has the potential to improve safety and reduce incidents at level crossings. “There are hundreds of rural level crossings in New Zealand that just have Stop or Give Way signs, and the onus at those crossings is on the motorist to take care by obeying the signs. This campaign raises awareness of the need to always look for trains and is extremely valuable,” she says.
The ‘Expect a train’ campaign has been developed and funded by the Transport Agency, KiwiRail and TrackSAFE NZ. The Rangitikei district is the third location to receive the campaign - the billboard has been previously installed in the Wairarapa and Central Hawkes Bay. The rail crossing campaign has been a great talking point so far and feedback is positive, with locals rethinking their approach to rail level crossings.
The Manawatu–Wanganui region was chosen as it is the fourth highest region for collisions per 100 level crossings, and the third highest region for rail collisions per 100,000 people in New Zealand.
The Neuman’s Line level crossing had a vehicle and train collision in 2014 which resulted in two occupants in the vehicle being injured. The Union Line level crossing had one near miss between a train and a vehicle in 2007.
After approximately three months in the Rangitikei district, the campaign will be progressively moved to other high risk level crossing regions throughout New Zealand. These regions will be selected based on their history of level crossing incidents in recent years.
47 percent of the 1,320 public road level crossings on KiwiRail’s network are protected by Give Way or Stop signs, with the remainder protected by a combination of bells, alarms and barriers. There are also 1,300 level crossings on private land that are mostly rural and are protected by Give Way or Stop signs.