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The Rail and Maritime Union says it was the "height of stupidity" to ban all West Coast rail services after a workplace accident.
Thursday's stoppage of four freight trains and the TranzAlpine Express passenger service came after an incident on August 22 when a track worker received severe leg injuries during routine maintenance using a hi-rail digger near Lake Brunner.
The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) issued a prohibition order preventing all use of hi-rail vehicles from the western end of the Otira tunnel and on all branch lines on the West Coast, but it allowed normal services to resume on Friday after receiving safety assurances from KiwiRail.
Rail and Maritime Transport Union organiser John Kerr said he could not understand what all the fuss was about because all parties involved had been cooperating with NZTA and it was possible that whoever issued the order was unaware of its impact on services.
"I thought the original ban was the height of stupidity because what makes a hi-rail vehicle safe when you are east of Arthur's Pass and not safe when you are west of Arthur's Pass?"
Kerr said he had visited the seriously injured worker in Christchurch Hospital - "he's still in one piece, he's a tough cookie."
Four trains carrying coal and general freight were cancelled following a prohibition order issued by NZTA.
NZTA senior manager of regulatory compliance and rail safety Brett Aldridge said that, despite repeated requests, the agency was unable to gain access to the information about the incident and the people involved, for seven days following the incident.
"The safety of workers is our top priority, and we consider our response entirely appropriate given the serious nature of the incident and the potential safety risks."
KiwiRail acting chief operations officer Henare Clarke said they had to cancel West Coast services because hi-rail vehicles were used for emergency rescue cover and for carrying out inspections to ensure the line was safe.
Following discussions between the company and the agency, NZTA allowed some hi-rail vehicles to operate under restricted conditions so services could resume.
Clark said it appeared miscommunication between the two organisations had led to the prohibition notice and every effort had been made to resolve that.
"KiwiRail has attempted to provide NZTA with all of the information it required, including photographs of the scene, and supplied documentation within two days of the incident occurring.
"We have also given NZTA access to our facilities to undertake their own investigation."
Clark said the decision to halt yesterday's TranzAlpine at Arthur's Pass affected around 120 passengers who were bussed to Greymouth, but it was too early to quantify the cost of the cancellations.
This article first appeared on www.stuff.co.nz
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