A report on a fatal train crash involving a truck has provided insight into possibly dangerous vegetation obscuring motorist's view of the tracks.
A report by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission has found the driver of the rubbish collection truck likely did not stop at the stop sign when it collided with an empty log train at a crossing near Kawerau in October 2017.
The crossing was protected by stop signs, which required all road users to stop and look for trains before proceeding over the crossing, the report states. There were no lights or sounds.
Before the crash, the truck driver had reached the end of Lambert Road and turned around, and was stopping periodically to service bins on the other side of the road.
When the truck entered the crossing it was struck on its left side by the train travelling 63km/h from Kawerau towards Murupara. The truck driver was thrown clear of the truck and was fatally injured. The truck was significantly damaged.
It was believed the truck was travelling at 48km/h at the time of the crash, the report said.
The commission found no issues with how the train was being driven and no technical issues with the truck that could have contributed to the accident.
However, while investigating the case, the commission did find an issue with sight lines.
It found that because of overgrown vegetation even if the truck had stopped, the driver would not have had sufficient view lines for the truck to clear the crossing from a stop if a train had been just out of view.
"Level crossing designers consider sighting distances for road users when determining what protection a crossing needs – like barriers and bells or just signage," Chief Investigator of Accidents captain Tim Burfoot said. "But growth in vegetation can quickly change sighting distances, making level crossings that were once safe, unsafe."
New Zealand legislation is unclear on who is responsible for ensuring the safety of road and rail users at public road level crossings, the report said.
The commission made four recommendations focused on the need to clarify the legislation on responsibility for sight lines in the rail corridor and the need for licensed rail access providers and road controlling authorities to work together to ensure good sight lines at level crossings.
"Whatever happens in terms of responses to the commission’s recommendations, road users must always approach railway level crossings with extreme care," Mr Burfoot said. "Particularly those level crossings that just have Give Way or Stop signs.”
He also advised motorists to always wear seatbelts to increase the chance of surviving an accident.