Talks after tragedy
On Thursday last week, Matamata College students gathered at the railway line where year 11 student Zak Lang was fatally hit by a train the day before.
The students cried, held hands and hugged as they struggled to come to terms with his death.
In a statement from a family friend, Zak’s parents Tania and Ian said their son was ‘‘a neat kid, a typical 15-year-old teenage boy with a cheeky nature and smile’’.
Their son was reportedly skipping class with two friends when he was killed by the locomotive.
The incident happened on a stretch of tree-shaded track running parallel to Firth St shortly before 3pm, nearly half-an-hour before school finished.
A Ministry of Education trauma team was working with college counsellors, staff and students.
Mayor Hugh Vercoe said the council would be calling a meeting with KiwiRail to discuss the incident and what could be done to prevent further tragedies.
‘‘It concerns me that predicted freight is going to be increasing; they won’t be slowing down for Matamata – [freight trains] will get longer and faster,’’ he said.
KiwiRail senior communications adviser Jenni Austin said the company ran about eight services a day through Matamata, known as the Kinleith branch, where the maximum speed for locomotives was 70kmh.
‘‘Our thoughts at this time are with the family and friends of the boy killed in the incident.
‘‘Incidents such as these are very distressing, particularly for our staff involved,’’ she said.
‘‘Trains are heavy and take a long time to stop, so there is little more train crews can do except pull on the brakes and sound the horn and hope for the best,’’ she said.
KiwiRail had installed a fence through the heart of Matamata over the past 12 months to keep pedestrians away from the tracks.
The new fence ended before Matamata College so Mr Vercoe said there would be discussions to work out a plan to have the fence extended beyond Swap Park.
Mr Vercoe’s stance on the railway track issue will be welcomed by parent Travis Ferguson who was alarmed to see students still walking along and crossing the railway line last week.
‘‘ I was surprised to see kids crossing the tracks and I do think it needs to be addressed by not only the school but the entire community,’’ he said.
Mr Ferguson said he hoped the speed of trains as they passed through town would be reviewed.
‘‘I also think that they should look at sounding the train’s horn as they pass by the college.’’
Sticking together: Students from Matamata College visit the site where year 11 student Zak Lang was fatally struck by a train last week.