Playing Roulette with freight trains

File photo.

No one has died. Not yet. But it could be only time.

They are the jumpers, the people who trespass on the rail bridge over the Chapel St causeway, using it as a diving platform. Both Police and KiwiRail are aware of the dangerous practice but have been unable to stop it.

This week KiwiRail spoke out in an effort to deter the jumpers after the warm weather created a procession of jumpers up the steep embankment from the beach to the bridge.

“KiwiRail has received four reports of trespassing on the bridge over the past year,” says KiwiRail’s group general manager for zero harm Katie McMahon. “Police have been notified.”

The Weekend Sun visited the beach below the rail bridge this week. Kids were scaling the bank and either clambering around the safety fencing or walking directly down the railway line onto the bridge. ‘What about the danger?’ we asked one young jumper in his early-teens. He just shrugged. ‘Do you want to die?’ Another shrug. ‘What happens if a train comes?’ “We just jump,” he laughed. He was back on the bridge moments later.

 At best the jumpers are dicing with a substantial maximum fine of $10,000 or at worst, death.

 “There have been fatalities of children playing on and jumping from rail bridges and this is a tragic situation for everyone,” says Katie.

“KiwiRail’s bridges – including Tauranga – have signs warning of the dangers and alerting people to the consequences for illegal trespass.”

Recently an 11-year-old girl was killed while playing on a train bridge across the Waikato River at Ngaruawahia. The bridge is a popular spot for locals to jump from into the river and stopping people from climbing on it is a hard task – despite fences, cameras and threats of fines.

Signs at both ends of the Chapel St rail bridge say: ‘Danger, tracks are for trains, keep out, trespassing is an offence, penalty $10,000’.  But on the Tauranga bridge, one sign was obliterated with graffiti and the other is difficult to read. And as The Weekend Sun observed, they are also ignored. Last night a boy of about 10 was watched clambering up the bridge embankment, around the safety fence and onto the rail bridge. He was encouraged by an older boy below. The youngster hung about nervously on the railway line before jumping. Just five minutes later a train hauling dozens of containers rumbled by and into the container terminal.

“Drivers often sound their horns before bridges and may slow the train,” says Katie. “However there are other risks in driving too slow across bridges, including people jumping on to trains and incidents where drivers have had things thrown at their windows.

“Our drivers’ emotional and physical wellbeing is put at risk when people play on our tracks and counselling is often needed following an incident.”

Katie says safety is KiwiRail’s number one priority “for the public and our people, particularly our Locomotive engineers”.

“Tracks are for trains and any trespassing on the rail corridor is dangerous as trains are big, heavy and cannot stop quickly. It is critical for communities that people stay off the tracks and rail bridges and that children are made aware of the dangers of this behaviour.”

KiwiRail has an education programme for schools and encourages families and communities to educate kids about the dangers on the rail network, particularly during holidays. Trains can approach from either direction at any time and the only way to stay safe is to stay off the tracks and bridges.

Katie says KiwiRail has also extended the safety fencing at this site and regularly checks on the signage because it has been removed in the past.


5 Comments

Trev

Posted on 16-01-2019 16:01 | By Pete KELLY

My neighbour (an old lady) was jumping off the Matapihi Bridge along with her mates back in the 30’s so nothing’s changed...part of risk-taking whilst growing up... better than becoming a Zombi on a Play Station all day.

Also Matapihi

Posted on 13-01-2019 23:02 | By PragmaticMikeSays

Last Sunday I went for a bike ride over Matapihi Bridge (shared cycleway and walk way), only to find my way blocked by a young couple and a dog. The couple were illegally fishing and had no idea of their surroundings. I rang the bell which the young lady ignored as she stepped back into me, I’m afraid I banged into her - no option. She said nothing, and a few moments later their dog ambled into the walk way, stopping my wife Dangerous, illegal and not the smartest thing to do.

Sound common sense...

Posted on 13-01-2019 12:47 | By morepork

... from rogue. If a bridge goes over water, kids will jump off it. (Unless the height makes it suicidal...) No "official" penalties will deter them and the simple answer is to provide a pedestrian and/or cycle access way that is well shielded from the rails. The cost is far less than trying to police it, counsel drivers, and maintain signs. Making a positive out of this negative is pretty much a no-brainer.

The rail bridge was for decades

Posted on 13-01-2019 12:04 | By tish

the main route to town for pedestians down that way, the whole rail line was their footpath and yes a local died a few decades ago, hit by a train after probably falling asleep on the lines down that end. If people want to do it, they will. That’s human nature for you. The kids will never listen to Big Voice saying don’t do it, they just don’t care and going Official on them won’t change anything. It never has before, its naive to think it will now. Mitigate instead, like the first poster has said.

History lesson

Posted on 13-01-2019 10:53 | By rogue

Seems Kiwirail has forgotten about the pedestrian footpath that was along the side of the bridge for 40+ years. From memory the rail bridge was there before the Chapel St road bridge, this was the best access to growing Sulphur Point for years. As a kid it was a right of passage to do bombs off the bridge. Perhaps if they re-instated it with a barrier like the Matapihi Bridge their PC Health & Safety Department could sleep at night.

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