7 Jan 2011

Staff kept on-fire train running 'to avoid delays'

8:22 pm on 7 January 2011

An interim report has found a litany of errors led to a train on fire continuing to run for several kilometres.

One passenger was treated for smoke inhalation after a morning service from Melling to the capital Wellington ground to a halt on 11 October last year.

The report finds train staff misdiagnosed the fire as a braking issue, even after smoke filled a carriage and burning material was seen falling on the tracks.

It says staff felt pressure to keep the service running to avoid delays and did not communicate with each other - or passengers - about the situation.

When the train stopped, the lack of communication led passengers to evacuate themselves from the train, which the report says could have placed them in danger - especially if they had exited onto the tracks.

The report makes nine recommendations, including scenario-based training every two years for on-board staff and reviewing their communications capabilities.

Paul Swain, a Wellington Regional Councillor and former Transport Minister, released the interim report and says it highlights some concerning errors.

"What I have said to KiwiRail is I expect, when the final report comes out, that the problems have been addressed more effectively, that staff training and on-board communications are much more urgent and taken much more seriously so that in the end, passengers know that if a situation like this happened again, things are going to be dealt with properly."

KiwiRail says it is disappointed that an interim and incomplete report should be relied upon, as it lacks a number of key facts and recommendations.

The final report will contain more comprehensive information and actions for improvement, it says.

The final report is due out in the next couple of months.