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Railroaded into road closures

The region’s residents could be forgiven for feeling somewhat infantilised by the nation’s transport agencies and their various proposals for significant changes to Wairarapa’s network in the quest for safety.

The first cab off the rank was Waka Kotahi NZTA’s great slowdown of State Highway 2.

Now, KiwiRail is considering closing some level crossings on Wairarapa’s train line. It’s within its rights to do so, given it owns the railway line, but that would effectively remove the roads from Google maps.

Both agencies have cited safety as the motivating factor.

We know at least three road closures are under consideration – Judds Rd in Masterton, and Pembroke and Victoria streets in Carterton.

A letter-drop to residents and business owners explains the rationale behind the proposal, although it’s clear the impact will be felt by many other road users.

“Closing level crossings significantly improves safety – by removing interactions between trains, vehicles, and people,” KiwiRail said.

“Another driver for closures is efficiency. There are 30 public level crossings from the Remutaka Tunnel to Masterton.

“On average, this equates to one crossing every 1.5km. We need to close some crossings if we want to be able to run more trains at faster speeds and improve commuter journeys.”

In the letter, KiwiRail also outlines the closures are part of a wider goal to improve level crossings on the Wairarapa Line.

“Improvements include aspects such as the installation of barrier arms, bells, and flashing lights.”

No information has been released about what “improvements” residents should expect. However, one can assume that any improvements beyond simply closing the road would be welcome.

It’s also natural to assume that the level crossings on the potential chopping block have a bad track record, so to speak, with any closures based on real-world data and crash history.

However, a deep dive into the history of serious or fatal crashes at Wairarapa’s level crossings do not necessarily paint this picture.

At Carterton’s Victoria St crossing, there have been no crashes reported, according to Waka Kotahi’s crash analysis system.

At Pembroke St, one non-injury crash was reported last year when a car’s brakes failed.

And at Judd’s Rd … no crashes have been reported.

Surely these crossings – some on the most popular arterial roads in Masterton and Carterton – would warrant safety improvements such as barrier arms instead of an absolute shutdown?

According to Waka Kotahi’s crash map, there have been five serious or fatal crashes at level crossings across the region since 2000.

Carterton’s Matarawa Rd was the scene of a fatal crash in 2007, as was the crossing at Wiltons Rd in 2002 and again in 2013. There were crashes at the Hodders and Dalefield roads crossing in 2005 and 2009, respectively.

The ripple effect of such crashes throughout a community is well-documented.

But road closures exact their own kind of toll, and a more fulsome explanation of KiwiRail’s agenda and proposals to save lives at these crossings is warranted.

Preventing-near misses will also play into KiwiRail’s argument, and there are surely several steps that could be taken before outright closures – barrier arms, flashing lights, and judder bars, for example.

All of this will cost money, of course. KiwiRail has had a rough ride recently, but that should surely remind the organisation that transparency is key.


  1. These people need to listen to the residents of this town
    Don’t blindside them like waka kotahi did,by not listening to the views

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Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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