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Melling crashes expose new train problems

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 7/12/2016 Sean Martin

Slippery tracks have been blamed for two similar train crashes at a Lower Hutt station but investigations have uncovered shortcomings when new trains a introduced and the national standards for testing and setting their brakes.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission has released its reports in the April 2013 and May 2014 crashes at Melling Station, where the commuter units collided with the stop block at the end of the tracks.

The second crash, which also brought down the overhead power line, caused more damage and passengers suffered minor injuries in both.

On Thursday the commission said in both accidents dew had formed on the track following dry weather.

"Both trains were being driven normally but the drivers were caught unaware by the slippery track conditions."

It found train drivers hadn't been trained properly on how to use the sophisticated braking system on the new Matangi trains.

Neither had the braking system on the trains been optimised for slippery track conditions when they were brought into service, and the original 70km/h approach speed into Melling (which has since been reduced to 50km/h) left little room for error.

The commission also identified a safety issue where the National Rail System Standards did not require new train types to have their train brake systems tested under slippery conditions.

Since then Wellington and Auckland train brake systems have been tested under and optimised for slippery conditions.

At Melling the in-ground stop block has been replaced with a shock absorbing buffer stop and the overheard power pole has been moved away from the track centreline.

The commission noted it was of concern that the driver of the train in the second accident was found to have cannabis in his system, although it did not believe that contributed to the crash.

Driver Bernie Thorne was sacked following the crash and failed to get his job back despite appealing to the Employment Relations Authority.

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