Safety upgrades for fatal BOP railway crossings

The Benner Road railway level crossing will receive “high impact, low-cost improvements”. Photo: Daniel Hines/SunLive.

A Pukehina railway level crossing will receive a plethora of safety upgrades in an effort to reduce the number of train-related near-misses, injuries and fatalities in the Bay of Plenty.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency made this announcement on Monday at the Pukehina Marae, while also acknowledging completed upgrades at three other level crossings in the area.

Representatives from KiwiRail, Western Bay of Plenty District Council, Ngāti Whakahemo, Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Makino and Ngāti Whakaue also attended the meeting.

Planned improvements for the Benner Road level crossing alongside State Highway Two include new flashing lights, bells, half-arm barriers, road widening and line marking, vegetation clearing, and new lighting.

Work to improve the crossing will get underway later this year.

Pongokawa man William Lee, 23, was killed at the Benner Road level crossing in 2002, after his tractor collided with a moving train.

Another two people died and three others were seriously injured after a train and car collided on Pongakawa School Road in June last year.

Waka Kotahi Programme Director Dave Van Staden says it’s unfortunate the Pukehina community has had to deal with these fatalities in the past.

On average five people die, five people are seriously injured, and there are 238 reported near-miss incidents at railway level crossings across New Zealand each year, says Dave.

"This is not a statistic Waka Kotahi are proud of.”

He describes the upgrades as “high impact, low-cost improvements”.

“By delivering a range of improvements to railway level crossing sites, we can improve the safety for road users and pedestrians using these crossings.”

The railway level crossing at Benner Road, Pukehina. Photo: Supplied.

KiwiRail Bay of Plenty operations leader Simon Prevett says he has been to about nine fatalities since he stepped into his role in 2017.

“It’s quite horrific because most level crossings have a story – a near miss, fatality or collision.”

He says the team at KiwiRail are thinking about rail safety 52 weeks of the year.

The other three level crossing upgrades are located alongside SH2 at Paengaroa, Pongakawa School Road and Ohinepanea Road in Pukehina.

Each site received a range of different improvements, such as new signs, barriers, lights and bells to warn drivers a train is approaching.

Waka Kotahi NZTA system manager Rob Campbell hopes these upgrades mean no other family has to experience losing a loved one from a level crossing fatality.

“These upgrades will make a difference - even if it just changes one life. The experiences of families who suffer these losses last with them forever.”.

The improvements are part of the Safe Network Programme, delivering safety improvements on high risk routes across New Zealand to make roads more forgiving of people’s mistakes.

A total of $26 million is being spent across New Zealand to make railway level crossings safer, using lower-cost safety improvements to prevent deaths and serious injuries, and targeting crossings on or near state highways.

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