Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Train drivers' gruesome reality

Last updated 11:12 19/03/2014


Rowdy Robertson will do the return trip to from Picton to Kaikoura in eight hours, driving the 100 tonne DX locomotive

It is often a childhood dream to be a train driver, but there's one part of the job that's a nightmare - hitting a person or car on the tracks.
In the past ten years more than 95 people have died in New Zealand while walking on railway tracks, which is actually trespassing.
Willy Palmer has been driving trains for many years and loves his job. But he says the worst part is the "walk of death".
"That's what happens when we hit a person on the tracks," Willy says. "We have to walk back along the railway lines, wondering exactly what we'll find. It's a really hard thing to do but we have to do it.
"I know some very good drivers who no longer drive trains because they've been so traumatised by what they've seen. But there was nothing they could do to prevent those collisions happening."
Nationally there have been a spate of near collisions between motorists and trains at level crossings this year.
There is nothing a train driver can do in a situation like that except sound their horn and hope for the best, which is very distressing.
Train driver Ian Thornton is often asked, "Why can't you stop", or "don't you have an emergency brake?"
But he can't swerve to avoid a vehicle or pedestrian on the line.
"Normally there is so little warning of a collision that even applying the emergency brakes doesn't make much difference. A 1000 tonne train travelling at 70 kilometres per hour can take up to 750 metres to stop."
From his train cab, Ian witnesses bad driving around level crossings almost every day.
"You see a vehicle arriving at a level crossing at speed and you wonder if it's going to stop in time. You hope that the driver does the right thing, obeys the warning signs and waits for the train to pass before going over the crossing."
Ian says living with the emotional pain of railway collisions is unfortunately part of the job.
"Obviously no train driver wants it to happen to them, and we wish that we had the power to avoid it, but ultimately the final outcome of any railway crossing incident is in the hands of the motorist," Ian says.

You are trespassing if you walk along the railway tracks or cross somewhere that is not a designated level crossing.
Look both ways for trains and only cross the railway line if there's enough space for your car on the other side.
Be patient.
Do not overtake a vehicle that has stopped for a train, or try to race a train over the crossing – they are going faster than you think.


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