Monday, July 15, 2024
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Is there a possibility that we are being played by Waka Kotahi?

I would like to start by acknowledging the accident at the Norfolk Road rail crossing on Friday. My thoughts go out to all of those involved. Crossings without barrier arms pose a risk to our community and the installation of barrier arms on all road-rail crossings by Kiwi Rail is essential.

The current proposals by Kiwi Rail to close four level crossings in Carterton have caused division in Carterton between those who are tired of some people speeding through their streets, those who want to retain the status quo, and commuters who have had enough of repeated breakdowns, late trains, buses, long commute times and there not being enough trains.

We have also heard of concerns that the closures will divide the town even further by making it harder for those living on the West to access services and by delaying the arrival of Fire and Emergency Responders, which could be crucial when minutes can mean the difference between life and death. KiwiRail say they need to close the level crossings to satisfy the safety requirements of Waka Kotahi’s Rail Safety Regulator, to get their approval for the faster, more frequent rail service.

Yet in my communications with Waka Kotahi, they stated they had not asked KiwiRail to close any roads – but that Kiwi Rail did need to submit a new safety plan for the improved rail service they intend operating, to Waka Kotahi’s National Rail Safety Regulator, who may or may not approve it depending on how well they believe the new safety plan offsets the increased risks.

So, given that I am being asked to negotiate an acceptable Safety Plan with Kiwi Rail on behalf of Carterton, I thought it reasonable to ascertain from Waka Kotahi and Kiwi Rail exactly what the criteria is that Kiwi Rail’s new safety plan must meet to be approved by Waka Kotahi and guess what? There is none. Why? Because Waka Kotahi says it does not want, in the event of an accident, to have the liability of any failure in that safety plan transferred to them.

When I raised my concerns with the Board of Waka Kotahi as to the problems the closure of these rail crossings would generate on SHW2, in the already congested CBD, and suggested that we would be creating a safety issue in the middle of town and at the roundabout on their highway, I learned that those matters would then come under the purview of Waka Kotahi’s Road Controlling Authority who were engaging with Kiwi Rail. Imagine my reaction when we asked Kiwi Rail and they said they had heard nothing from Waka Kotahi’s Road Controlling Authority and that the two Waka Kotahi agencies didn’t appear to be talking to each other.

Add to this my worry that KiwiRail may have a different agenda, and may be over ramping the safety requirements and wanting us to agree to close the crossings to minimize their costs of installing bells, lights, and barriers on them, and I begin to think that we are being played.

That said, we have tried to be constructive. In a meeting with KiwiRail this month, we made it very clear that the communication with the community so far had been unsatisfactory and asked them to look at different options to closing the four proposed crossings, such as considering other crossings or the possibility of a road bridge.

We asked for the Level Crossing Safety Impact Assessments, and we identified that fencing the entire rail corridor through town would be a massive safety improvement. We are setting up a community working group to help us find an acceptable solution to the problem. But it is difficult dealing with KiwiRail, who are saying they are merely trying to meet what they believe will be Waka Kotahi’s expectations when Waka Kotahi refuses to explain what those safety expectations or criteria actually are, be it for the rail crossings or SHW2.

The board of Waka Kotahi knows the two government departments are conflicted, and that we are the meat in their sandwich, but they refuse to meet with me and my chief executive. They refuse to engage with council, and have not and will not attend any community meetings to explain their requirements, despite one of their board members being a Carterton resident. No matter how I look at this, nothing makes sense, and no one is talking sense.

This is why I have asked our local MP, the Hon Minister Kieran McAnulty, for a meeting with David Parker, the Minister of Transport and that he require the chairpersons and the chief executives of both KiwiRail and Waka Kotahi to be present so that we can sort this nonsense out.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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