Monday, March 21, 2016

KIRSTY LAWRENCE   15:07, March 21 

Tracksafe foundation manager Megan Drayton says trains can be very quiet and usually are travelling faster than they appear.

A former train driver who has been involved in multiple train accidents says when you realise what is about to happen, you feel horrified. 

Two people have died on Manawatu train tracks in recent months, including Taihape teen James Hamilton, 16, who was struck by a train and killed on Wednesday.

Wayne Butson said for the train drivers involved it would create a range of emotions. 
David Unwin/Fairfax NZ

The area of tracks opposite Matatora Rd and Toroa St in Taihape where a teen was hit and killed by a freight train in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Butson drove trains for 20 years and is now the Rail and Maritime Transport Union secretary, and said he had encountered several level crossing and trespassing incidents.

"I've had one person step on the track, which was a suicide attempt, and the real tragedy is they try and make eye contact with you, which is really quite disturbing. It actually took me a long time to get over that one."

Butson said once you realised an incident was about to occur, you went through a range of emotions. 

"It starts out as horror and it goes through to disbelief, I mean how do you miss a train.

"You're completely powerless, you're basically just a spectator [seeing] things you have little or no control over."

He said some drivers also had to deal with situations where they hit people who were known to them.  
"We've had a person hit a vehicle with his wife in it and they all died."

There was a strong policy in place for drivers and Butson said once an incident occurred the driver was stood down and had to attend compulsory counselling sessions. 

"We have had a few train drivers who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder."

The only way to quickly stop a train in a situation where someone was on the tracks was to use the emergency break, which Butson said could do a lot of damage and de-rail the train. 

"I'm just at a complete loss to explain how people are hit by trains other [than] that they are doing it by choice."

Tracksafe foundation manager Megan Drayton said a person was considered trespassing if they were on a track at any place other then a designated crossing. 

"The reason trespassing is illegal is because it is extremely unsafe. 

"In fact, most collisions between pedestrians and trains are fatal."

She said this was due to the fact trains could be very quiet and usually, were travelling faster than they appeared. 

Drayton said collisions and near collisions could both have a traumatic and long-term psychological effect on the driver. 

"There is very little they can do to avoid the collision other than apply the emergency brake and hope that the train will stop in time. 

"Seeing people on the tracks can also bring back traumatic memories of previous collisions or near-misses."

Drayton said people should only ever cross at level crossings and should take care to look and only cross if no trains are in sight. 

"If a train has passed and the bells and lights are still operating, there could be a second train coming from the same or the other direction."

The safest avenue was to always wait for the signals to stop before crossing the tracks. 


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