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Close encounters with trains are on the rise and as train frequencies increase, KiwiRail and TrackSAFE NZ are encouraging everyone to take a simple action that could save their lives.
"Since 2012, 107 people have died in collisions with trains in New Zealand. Each of those deaths was an individual tragedy that impacted on the lives of families, friends, communities, our staff and those in the emergency services who deal with the aftermath," says KiwiRail Chief Executive Peter Reidy.
In the 12 months to June, there were 71 near misses reported between pedestrians and trains at level crossings throughout the country. This compares to 17 near misses with pedestrians reported in the 12 months to June 2013, reflecting a global trend of an increase in reported rail incidents involving pedestrians.
"While people are aware of the risk from trains, in many cases the knowledge of that risk isn't translating into action. They know they should expect trains, but they don't," says Mr Reidy.
"Some people have grown complacent to risk around the tracks, and there are now further risks to contend with, such as mobile technology.
"At the same time, New Zealand's population is growing and our rail lines are becoming busier. This means the likelihood of encountering a train is increasing."
Rail Safety Week (13-19 August) is a nationwide campaign that raises awareness of safe behaviour around railway tracks. KiwiRail and its partners, including the NZTA, NZ Police, Auckland Transport and local councils, will be sharing rail safety messages at level crossings and schools throughout the country this week.
The key message this year is simple - Look Right, Look Left for trains.
"For this year's Rail Safety Week campaign, we're encouraging people to take a very simple action at level crossings, which could save their lives.
"Any accident on the track is one too many. We all lead busy lives but when you reach a level crossing, whether you are on foot or in a vehicle, it's important to take a few seconds to look right, look left for trains," says Mr Reidy.
TrackSAFE NZ's Foundation Manager Megan Drayton says while in general incidents involving vehicles are decreasing, near misses with pedestrians are on the rise.
"People are sometimes on autopilot when they're familiar with an environment and don't remember to look up from their phones or remove their headphones when they approach a level crossing," she says.
Where there are double tracks, there is also a real need to be mindful of a second train.
"If one train has passed and has pulled into a station, there is a high chance a train may be coming from the other direction.
"This means it is crucial that people obey the active signals at crossings, and never cross while they are working.
"We have seen far too many near misses where people have not looked for the second train."
While behaviour and personal responsibility play a large role in preventing incidents, engineering solutions can also help reduce risk, says Ms Drayton.
A number of engineering initiatives are underway to improve safety at level crossings.
Auckland Transport (AT) and KiwiRail have started installing automatic safety swing gates to keep pedestrians safe at railway crossings across Auckland. There are also three new sets of automatic gates in the planning and/or construction phase in Wellington, and more gates being planned around the country.
KiwiRail is also trialling a number of low-cost safety initiatives for level crossings such as installing flashing signs and LED lights at eye and ground level, targeting people who may be distracted by their devices.
A long-term programme is also underway to upgrade level crossings throughout the country.
Rail safety advice:
* Every time you're near railway tracks, be alert. Trains can come at any time, from either direction.
* When you're on foot, only cross at formed pedestrian crossings or an overpass or underpass.
* Remove your headphones, stop and always look both ways for trains before crossing the tracks.
* Only cross if you are sure there are no trains in sight.
* Obey the warning signs at the crossing - if lights are flashing or bells are ringing it means a train is approaching.
* If a train has passed or is stationary at a station, always check both ways again to make sure another train is not coming. Two tracks might mean there is a second train.
* If you're driving, obey warning signs and look carefully in both directions for trains.
* Listen, be aware and pay careful attention to your surroundings.
* Always ensure there is space on the other side of the crossing for your vehicle.
Never overtake a vehicle that has stopped for a train or try to race a train over the
This article first appeared on www.scoop.co.nz
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