Rail safety campaign in Marton urges drivers to get off ‘autopilot mode’ at level crossings

Rail safety campaign in Marton urges drivers to get off ‘autopilot mode’ at level crossings :A rail safety campaign is designed to get drivers off ‘autopilot mode’ at rural level crossings.

The NZ Transport Agency, KiwiRail and TrackSAFE NZ launched a campaign on Monday targeted at improving driver awareness at railway level crossings in Marton.

The ‘Expect a train’ campaign includes a locomotive-sized billboard at the Union Line level crossing, off Wanganui Rd, near Marton, and three approach warning signs at the Neumans Line level crossing.

The Manawatu–Whanganui region was chosen for the campaign as it is the third-highest region for rail collisions per 100,000 people in New Zealand and fourth-highest region for collisions per 100 level crossings.

The Neumans Line level crossing had a vehicle and train collision in 2014 that 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.

NZTA rail safety manager Debbie Despard said the billboard and signs acted as a visual reminder for drivers to slow down and check for real trains before crossing the tracks.

Both the Union Line and Neumans Line level crossing are protected by stop signs only, without flashing lights, bells or barrier arms.

Despard said local drivers who used the level crossing frequently could become complacent about stopping, especially as their previous experience was that they didn’t normally come across a train.

“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.”

Despard said services on some rural train lines could 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,” she said.

TrackSAFE NZ manager Megan Drayton said they supported any initiative that had 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,” Drayton said.

The Rangitikei District is the third location of the campaign – the billboard has been previously installed in the Wairarapa and Central Hawke’s Bay.

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