Cross­ing hor­ror

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE - By EMMA WHIT­TAKER and JOE DAW­SON

CALLS to im­prove pedes­trian safety at rail­way cross­ings are be­ing reignited af­ter a woman in a wheel­chair was struck by a freight train.

The 23-year-old vic­tim is in crit­i­cal con­di­tion and is be­ing treated at Auck­land Hospi­tal for se­vere head in­juries and mul­ti­ple frac­tures af­ter the in­ci­dent at Morn­ing­side.

It is un­der­stood the ac­ci­dent oc­curred when her wheel­chair be­came stuck at 9.10am on Mon­day.

Matthieu Mereau was on his way to work in Kings­land when he saw the trapped woman.

‘‘She was try­ing to move her­self out of the way. I went over and said, ‘I’ll help you, I’ll get you out.’’

Mr Mereau couldn’t free the chair and called over a woman jog­ging past to help.

Both strug­gled for as long as they could as the bar­rier arms came down and bells sounded the rapid ap­proach of a train.

They had no op­tion but to tip the trapped woman out of her chair and leap out of the way of the on­com­ing train.

‘‘The woman fell clear but the wheel­chair was still on the tracks,’’ Mr Mereau says.

‘‘That got caught by the train. The lady was still close to the wheel­chair so she got dragged along.’’

The woman who came to help was also taken to hospi­tal and was re­leased later in the day.

Al­bert-Eden Lo­cal Board mem­ber Graeme Easte says the in­ci­dent shows Auck­land Trans­port needs to ur­gently con­sider grade level sep­a­ra­tion at rail­way cross­ings.

Grade sep­a­ra­tion refers to bridges or tun­nels over or un­der lines so pedes­tri­ans and mo­torists are not forced to cross tracks.

The board has been push­ing for the ap­proach since its for­ma­tion in 2010.

‘‘We ac­cept its ex­pen­sive and its go­ing to take time. It’s our vi­sion that maybe they’d be able to do one a year.

‘‘We’re not try­ing to break the bank, we are try­ing to break the pat­tern of do­ing noth­ing,’’ he says.

Mr Easte says work may need to be done to see if there are any in­terim safety mea­sure that can be put in place.

Auck­land Trans­port has in­ves­ti­gated grade level sep­a­ra­tion and Morn­ing­side Drive is on a list of 23 sites across the city that it be­lieves would ben­e­fit from it.

Wheel­chair user and bar­rier free ad­viser for CCS Dis­abil­ity Ac­tion Vi­vian Nay­lor went to look at the Morn­ing­side cross­ing on Mon­day and says she would not have at­tempted cross­ing there.

‘‘When in­ter­sec­tions are first done they are beau­ti­ful, but as time goes on and the tarseal lay­ers up they be­come more dan­ger­ous,’’ she says.

Ms Nay­lor says those with dif­fer­ent ac­cess needs are not good at com­plain­ing and will of­ten find an alternative route or change plans in­stead of rais­ing prob­lems.

‘‘We are con­stantly plan­ning routes that no-one else would think about,’’ Ms Nay­lor says.

Train­ing peo­ple to think about travel in the same way as some­one with lim­ited mo­bil­ity would help, she says.

‘‘I have been in touch with Kiwi Rail when a cross­ing is dan­ger­ous and they come out very quickly and make amend­ments, but I don’t know if crews look at cross­ings in the same way they look at tracks.’’

She says some cross­ings have gates that pre­vent peo­ple from ven­tur­ing out if it is not safe and some­thing like that could work at Morn­ing­side.

‘‘Sub­ur­ban cross­ings do need to be kept in pretty good con­di­tion. At the very least they need to ad­dress the sub­strate in the sur­face.’’

She says its been quite a long time since the cross­ing was up­graded.

‘‘I bet if it was a pot­hole in a road it would have been fixed ear­lier.’’

A Kiwi Rail spokes­woman says the cross­ing was up­graded in mid-2011 and since then there had been no other in­ci­dents.

The last time an in­ci­dent oc­curred at Morn­ing­side be­fore the up­grade was in 2002 when a per­son was hit and killed.

Pho­tos: PETER MEECHAM

Res­cuer: Matthieu Mereau helped pull a woman in a wheel­chair woman out of the path of a train.

Af­ter­math: A St John staff mem­ber speaks to a woman res­cuer whose foot was in­jured at the Morn­ing­side sta­tion when a train hit a woman in a wheel­chair. The dam­aged wheel­chair is in the back­ground.

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