Follow us on Twitter

Fixing Level Crossings

A hot topic over the last few days has been the tragic accident that occurred at Morningside. A lady was struck by a train after one of the wheels of her wheelchair became wedged between the footpath and the rail. As you can see in this piece from Campbell Live, the state of the crossing was quite appalling. Its poor state had obviously been noticed by someone as there were even spray painted arrows indicating that a fix was required yet nothing had been done.

Morningside Crossing - Campbell Live

Click to watch the story

Works have now occurred to improve the crossing with some of the gaps filled in with asphalt. Such a simple solution that probably didn’t cost all that much and most likely would have prevented this accident begs the question of why it wasn’t done earlier.

Morningside Crossing - After

Photo thanks to Alex Burgess

While the crossing is now safer, it does once again raise the issue of level crossings in general. The ultimate solution is that we either grade separate the crossings or close the them all together. The former can cost a lot of money while the later can cut connectivity. After years of no changes, we finally saw some crossings removed as part of the New Lynn trench project, which was actually more a roading project than a PT project. AT are also talking about closing the Sarawia St level crossing, although I understand that some groups are pushing for pedestrian and cycle access to be retained, something I think is stupid.

The problem I have is that at this point in time, with the exception of Sarawia St, there appears to be no solid plans to actually do anything to resolve these level crossing issues. Level crossing removal sits the organisations statement of intent for 2011-2014 under major projects for study, investigation or design. Despite this the Regional Land Transport Programme for 2012-2015, which lists around $4.4 billion of spending over the three year time frame only includes $524,000 towards design, and even then it only occurs in the last year of the programme. The only level crossings that I know are planned to be grade separated in the future are Normanby Rd and Porters Ave, but they will only happen as part of the CRL.

If we want to get serious about fixing these danger spots, it is time that AT started acting on it. I would like to see AT re-jig some of their plans and commit a some real money, say $10m per year towards the progressive removal of crossings. Spending money to remove the level crossings in at least the urban area would likely be a far better use of taxpayers and ratepayers money than some of the dubious projects that were highlighted in my post yesterday.

44 comments to Fixing Level Crossings

  • Bryce P

    Matt, leaving Sarawia as a level crossing would be stupid but building a over bridge or under pass for peds/cyclist would be smart :-).

  • JohnP

    Man that Morningside level crossing was in shit state. What a travesty. Our roads are extremely well maintained in general, certainly in much better condition than the US, and that level crossing, on the other hand, is an embarassment (not a road, I know).

    I feel terrible for that woman and can only imagine how frightening it must have been for her, watching that train coming closer and closer.

    • JohnP

      Thinking about this more, it’s even worse when you consider that nearly every commercial building in the country must have wheelchair access, including the toilet on my uncle’s sheep farm, but this is the best we can do for our public space.

      • Peter H

        “nearly every Commercial building”

        NZBC Clause D1 Access route.
        D1.3.2 At least one access route shall have features to enable people with disabilities to:
        a) Approach the building from the street boundary OR, where required to be provided, the building car park.

        In Hamilton there are two Newish award winning buildings (green that is) Deloitte Building & Braemar Hospital which have Chosen the car park only option.

    • bbc

      That level crossing looks like the typical standard of US infrastructure and is a blatant example of how stupid it is that we have different agencies siloed off to fund only specific tasks, roads with no potholes get regularly re-sealed, rail infrastructure is left to rot.

  • Yes it is a result of siloed mode focused thinking; where one mode gets gold plated and the rest get nothing.

  • SteveC

    one of the major issues with retrofitting grade separation is that there isn’t sufficient width in the road cross-section for both the ramp and for access to properties, which meant that up to six properties might have to be purchased either side of the tracks

    • Glen

      SteveC, the solution for the Morningside Drive level crossing is to trench the line.
      The area is ripe for transport-oriented development (especially once the CRL is confirmed) by the nearby warehousing etc. being redeveloped into apartments/terraces, and being made much more pedestrian friendly to suit.
      The level crossing being located so close to New North Road means a ramp will always be tough. Trenching the line will take the rail line out of the road layout equation, allowing better street-level development for residents as well as retaining traffic flow, and making a big step-change in local amenity, better for everyone.
      If only we had a Council and transport body with vision… if only…

      • SteveC

        rather if only we had a council that had found the leprechaun’s gold at the end of the rainbow! seriously Glen, with double tracking complete and much work done on the overhead, I thank that horse has bolted for some years to come

  • Christopher T

    Auckland’s complacency about level crossings is extraordinary. You need only look at the New Lynn rail trench which, although it took out four level crossings and enabled a grade separated arterial roadway, for some extraordinary reason KiwiRail who apparently were responsible for the design of the project decided to retain the Portage Road crossing which is not only un-gated for pedestrians but encourages trespassing on the rail track through its proximity to the Whau creek over bridge. Likewise, in the course of Project Dart, Avondale train station was relocated. Ideally this should have been the moment to grade separate the St Jude Street level crossing but not only did this not occur – I understand the Auckland City Council as it then was refused to consider contributing funds although the Auckland Regional Council made funding available – but they also, during the implementation phase of the original design, abolished a proposed pedestrian over bridge at the Chalmers Street end of the relocated station for budgetary reasons. This poorly conceived re-design forces pedestrians (including safety averse school children) to cross the tracks via a 30m U-bend. This is not an historical accident; it’s been planned and implemented in the last five years, during our supposed rail renaissance.

    • I’d assumed Portage Rd was left the way it is because the rail geometry to reach the bridge required it. It’s a fairly simple fix to raise the road over the rail.

      • Christopher T

        Obviously the rail geometry was a significant consideration; but you have to ask why wasn’t the road bridge constructed, particularly since the trench project came in well under-budget? For heaven’s sake, this is an area that has long been proposed for urban intensification. Either that or the road could have been closed off; there are, after all five other grade separated rail crossings within 750 m or so? I mean there are almost as many vehicular crossings of this short trench than there are over the motorway moat around the CBD. Is this how we plan modernised infrastructure or is it just that the prospect of de-privileging the car was too much for the former Waitakere City planners?

        • Maybe it is on the programme, it just comes down to money and need. I don’t see that as a problem, it’s probably not very busy with road vehicles and not an issue for trains. Perhaps when we get the CRL and train frequencies can increase significantly then they can close or separate it.

        • Sacha

          “many vehicular crossings of this short trench”

          Think of it as the core grid of the future higher-density town centre. Quite deliberate.

          • Christopher T

            That’s OK then; core grid stuff. As far as I can recall, the Portage Road level crossing has only had one fatality since it opened a couple of years back (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10786791). So, quite deliberate: must have been the pedestrian’s fault; nothing to do with penny pinching, bad design, or the prioritising of motor vehicles. As I say, Auckland authorities demonstrate an extraordinary sense of complacency when it comes to non road vehicle safety.

    • Patrick Reynolds

      This all comes back to the governments Policy Statement which tells NZTA not to spend any of the NLTF on rail. NZTA then refuses to add its 50% to any project around a rail station, (absent a rugby tournament) that AT or AC might propose, even if they did, and they don’t, as they know the answer. Add to that that Kiwi Rail is being wound down as quietly through financial starvation so they have less than No Money for any kind of upgrade.

      All the recent work was funded under the previous gov. except electrification which is being funded by a loan to the citizens of Auckland. And after that project there will be absolutely NO MORE spent on rail infrastructure in Auckland until the government changes.

  • TheBigWheel

    Re Sarawia St, pedestrian and cycle access needs to be maintained.. via a bridge not the crossing.

  • Roycienator

    Agree with all regarding grade separation. The distressing thing is to see in the photos is the vulcanised rubber sections in place for the road crossing but un-maintained asphalt for the ped crossing. Surely extending or using the same materials for them ped crossing when installing the system for road crossing would’ve been the more cost effective future proofed quick-win measure… Would’ve gone a long way to limiting the accident yesterday.

  • Sacha

    KiwiRail ‘s predecessor was officially advised of the high-density rubber solution in 2006 and then again in 2009. It allows perfectly level access with zero gaps for all pedestrians but compresses when a heavy train wheel crosses it.

    I’d welcome a health and safety investigation about why they chose not to implement a relatively cheap and fast interim answer while the foot-dragging over grade separation continues. That incident at Morningside was totally preventable and unnecesary harm. I have background detail if anyone is interested.

    • They can make all the improvements they like, and Morningside will still be fraught. It’s a level crossing, right next to a station where the platform is between the tracks, next to a busy intersection and an increasing busy cluster of shops. I have no data to back me up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the busiest *pedestrian* and traffic level crossing in Auckland.

      • Roycienator

        Agreed Harry but lets get real; AT & central Government don’t like to spend money so if a quick-win safer alternative exists, lets use it!

        I now live in Melbourne and more crossings are being upgraded using STRAIL HD rubber systems which is much safer and lower cost solution than grade separation. I hope AT seriously considers using HD rubber crossing systems now and negoiates a good price for multiple installations. NZTA should also consider extending any installations to include ped and road. This would potentially be the cheapest solution.

  • harrymc

    Isn’t this just another example of “cars are important but people on foot can go **** themselves?”
    It’s obvious that if you are walking you are too poor to need any consideration. And as for wheelchair users…………

  • obi

    The situation in the “after” photo isn’t too posh either. I count 14 changes of surface material and texture in about two meters. Presumably there are another 14 for the second rail. That counts as off-roading in my book. The path also appears to be quite narrow… probably too narrow for two wheelchairs to pass, or a wheelchair and a pram. That may be an issue with perspective though.

    I’m opposed to closing crossings since it divides the city like a wall or a fence. I’m not sure road bridge crossings are viable these days, given the opposition to the Basin Reserve flyover in Wellington. Personally I don’t like cycle and pedestrian bridge crossings because I object having to climb them when there is a direct at-grade alternative available that just requires me to pay attention to rail traffic. I think the only reasonable strategy is progressive trenching. That would solve the safety issues, would help reduce noise, and would also allow us to build over the rail line. Or, you could cover the trenched railway and use the right of way for dedicated cycle paths. I’d like to know what this would cost.

  • Sacha

    Harry, sadly you are right about how official decisions large and small reflect the esteem in which groups of people are held by all of us. Fixing that requires investment, just like crossing surfaces.

  • Sacha

    The asphalt they’ve hurriedly used here is not a permanent fix. It degrades with heat and vibration, which creates a widening gap. Large enough for pram and electric wheelchair wheels to stick in. We’ve all seen how shopping trolley wheels pivot sideways, right?

  • George D

    I can’t find any images right now, but there is quite a range when it comes to level crossings, and smooth safe rubber matting seems to be used among the best.

    I had to help rescue a disturbed person from a busy line in Melbourne early last year, and it was particularly stressful, even though I was in no physical danger. Thankfully emergency services were there in minutes, and no harm was done. There are a multitudes of reasons for keeping high-speed high-weight unmaneuverable vehicles and the population apart. They just shouldn’t mix, under any circumstances. I just hope that more is done after this tragedy.

    I’m also appalled that so little has been done to properly boom-gate and signal road crossings in NZ. Many fatalities have not been enough to spur the action needed.

  • Bryce P

    Look at the condition of the vehicle crossing in that photo and compare to the pedestrian crossing. Pretty much sums up the level of expenditure on walking and cycling compared to roads really.

  • Anthony

    “Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan said just over $1 million had been allocated for investigation and design work to remove three rail level crossings. Crossings at Morningside, Manuroa Rd in Takanini and St Judes St in Avondale were marked as priorities for removal and replacement with an over or under pass.”
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10868027

    Trenching morningside wouldn’t be very feasible given the nearby New North Road bridges.

    • Yes but that is a bit disingenuous as it suggests the investigation is happening now. Only $524k has been in the 2014/15 year with just over another $500k allocated for the 2015/22 period.

  • Owen Thompson

    I think Walters Rd., Takanini needs priority as well, together with a new station as The Warehouse is building on the eastern side of the track so traffic volumes will increase markedly.

  • Stu Donovan

    Squabbles of funding aside, my sympathies go out not only to the woman in the wheelchair but also the train driver. What an awful, awful thing for them to have to experience.

    • George D

      Absolutely. Kiliing and seriously injuring people should not be an occupational hazard. That it is – quite a few train drivers are involved in preventable accidents annually – is appalling.

  • Sacha

    “I hope AT seriously considers using HD rubber crossing systems now”

    Rail and council organisations in Auckland have been aware since 2006 of that option being recommended in official research after fatalities in Australia. I’d like to hear why it wasn’t implemented here, and who made that decision.

    • Christopher T

      It appears that KiwiRail were using rubber crossing systems during Project Dart until their operating budget was cut by the present government. On the St Jude Street level crossing they used a German system, pedeSTRAIL(http://www.strail.de/index.php?id=196&L=1) but on subsequent crossings, e.g. Morningside and St George’s Roads, they reverted back to the, presumably cheaper, timber/asphalt solution which has a distinctly limited lifespan: the St George’s crossing, which was installed about two years ago, is already beginning to break down at the edges and along the rail.

  • dave

    Glen, I don’t think Kiwirail would want to trench through Morningside as it is at the bottom of a dip between Mt Albert and Mt Eden, so fairly steep grades each way, and they wouldn’t want to steepen then. Also then there could be problems at New North Rd at the other end of Morningside station.

  • Martin

    I’ve been totally shocked by the number for people (and vehicles) hit in New Zealand. In the 6 years I’ve lived in the UK I’ve really taken on board just how terrible NZ is. Our accident/indicent rates at crossings are absolutely terrible when compared to other “First World” nations (especially the UK).

    We should take a leaf out of the UK model and vertually elimiate all level vehicle and predestrian suburban crossings (while properly fencing in the network) and where pedestrians have an absolute need to use a level crossing instead of over/underpasses, metal plating should be used instead of old sleepers/bitumen etc.

    like this: http://www.railcrossings.co.uk/pedestrian_crossings.php

  • Christopher T

    KiwiRail doesn’t have the budget to purchase any more rubber crossing systems, let alone fence in the network because that sort of thing isn’t core to its profit-making role as a second choice national freight carrier, at least according to the current government. The spurious no. 8 wire mentality, i.e. cheap substitutions for proper solutions, is deemed as more than acceptable by current management and their political masters.

    • Mr Anderson

      Management of the rail network should be handed over to NZTA with KiwiRail paying them track access fees for running freight. Nobody expects each bit of the State Highway network to “pay its way” (think how quiet many section of South Island state highways are) so why is rail different?

  • Sacha

    Hopefully the health and safety aspects of this failure may force change despite that short-sighted penny-pinching mindset from the top, just as Pike River is doing.

Leave a Reply