20 Jan 2022

Calls for better communication after near-miss incident on rail line in Hamilton

5:58 pm on 20 January 2022

An investigation into a train nearly hitting a rail worker in a maintenance digger has found communication between rail workers needs serious improvement.

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Photo: 123rf

The details of the incident have come to light in a report released today by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission.

On September 21 2020, a freight train nearly collided with a hi-rail digger a contractor was operating in Waikato.

Just after 7.45am in the morning, a train entered the East Coast main trunk line between Eureka and Ruakura, on the outskirts of Hamilton.

A contractor in a hi-rail vehicle was working on the line, but voluntarily left about five minutes later.

At 7.55am, the train came through the line.

The report found the hi-rail was supposed to be on the train until 8am.

"Had the hi-rail vehicle remained on track until 0800, the time agreed between the train controller and the rail protection officer, it would likely have been struck by the train," the report said.

"The use of poor non-technical skills between the rail protection officer and train control resulted in procedural errors being made that went undetected."

The report said workers on the national rail network are at risk of "serious harm" if a train entered a section of the track while they were working.

It called for communication skills as an "important risk mitigation measure" and for the use of better "engineering control measures".

It recommended KiwiRail should incorporate better these measures into its operations, to minimise the risk and protect track workers.

In response, KiwiRail said it agreed with the "intent of the recommendation".

"Work is currently underway to renew the train control system which will give us the technology to move to a form of hand-held track worker interaction in the future.

"The strategy is to deliver a business case for this next year to be funded and delivered in the 2025 - 2027 funding period. We will have completed implementation of the new train control system by 2025."

In a statement, KiwiRail chief operating officer for rail operations Paul Ashton said it was in the tender phase of renewing and upgrading its national signal control system, the base where trains all around the country are controlled from.

"Once this product is selected and commissioned, it will enable us to procure, trial and implement mobile tablet technology as TAIC recommend."