KiwiRail has fronted about its proposal to make Judds Rd a dead end at a fiery public meeting, where it agreed to listen to the community’s concerns.
The state-owned rail company faced a crowd of hundreds of angry Masterton residents at Copthorne Hotel Solway Park yesterday afternoon after first proposing to close the crossing earlier in the month via a leaflet drop to some Judds Rd households – a move that took even the Masterton District Council [MDC] by surprise.
Businesses, residents, and emergency services said the proposed closure would negatively impact their livelihoods, lifestyle, and safety.
Breadcraft Director John Cockburn said his 250 staff need access to Ngaumutawa Rd to avoid the dangerous Judds Rd-SH2 intersection, which he dubbed “the gauntlet”.
“We can’t afford to lose this access around our town – and if we lose it, we will continue to pay for it in the future,” Cockburn said.
Judds Rd resident and president of the Ratepayers Association Lyn Riley said KiwiRail dropping off pamphlets to some households was not a valid form of consultation and noted that she never received one.
“This bureaucracy is riding roughshod over ordinary people,” Riley said.
“Wellington bureaucrats think they can do what they please but, here in Masterton, we’ve had enough.”
It was agreed that a steering group of local businesses and residents will be set up to explore and promote all options to avoid a closure.
KiwiRail, Masterton District Council [MDC], Greater Wellington Regional Council, and local MP Kieran McAnulty agreed to work alongside the steering group to find the best solution.
Mayor Gary Caffell said that a closure would be a last resort.
“We will be very quick to explore all options; we see it as a fight worth having.”
The proposal is part of KiwiRail’s planned safety improvements for all 30 railway level crossings between Remutaka Tunnel and Masterton, including installing lights, bells, and arm barriers, and closing some hazardous crossings with viable alternative routes.
The upgrades are intended to prepare Wairarapa Line for the faster and more frequent trains scheduled to arrive by the end of the decade.
Of the 30 crossings, Judds Rd is the only “short stack level crossing” – where the short distance between the crossing and the Ngaumutawa Rd intersection causes long trucks giving way at the Ngaumutawa intersection to leave their trailers hanging over the rail tracks.
If a truck cannot turn onto Ngaumutawa Rd because of traffic and has its trailer over the tracks, it could have nowhere to turn to avoid a collision with an oncoming train.
A barrier arm would not fix the problem because the arm could come down while the trailer still hangs over the tracks.
One solution KiwiRail proposed was a traffic light connected to the train signalling system, which would stop traffic on Ngaumutawa Rd and allow trucks to clear the tracks and turn safely.
However, the rail agency said it proposed closing the crossing because the traffic light option is out of both its budget and jurisdiction, implying the need for MDC or central government funding.
McAnulty said KiwiRail needs to consult locals before making any changes.
“This community has been stung by Waka Kotahi, who didn’t change their speed limit proposal one iota despite overwhelming local opposition,” McAnulty said.
“The public is frustrated, so that reassurance that you [KiwiRail] will consult with the community is important.”
KiwiRail’s Wellington metro director Andy Lyon took the opportunity for a swipe at the embattled transport agency and reassured locals that any public consultation will be conducted in earnest.
“I want to touch on Waka Kotahi’s speed limit ‘consultation’ – and I use that word loosely – but there will be a different process here,” Lyon said.
“Some proposed changes [to the level crossings] we won’t budge on. Otherwise, we do want to hear what you have to say.”
KiwiRail capital projects chief David Gordon said a whole community solution is needed.
“I absolutely commit that KiwiRail will work with that group to find a solution.”