Railway crossings, Robinson helicopters added to safety watchlist


The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) is adding two new items to its watchlist of most pressing concerns.

One involves the popular Robinson helicopter and the other, safety issues around railway level crossings.

The TAIC announced its concerns about pedestrians and vehicles using railway level crossings today, warning that railway crossing safety systems have not kept pace with change.

One example was the pedestrian mazes which were initially designed to force a person to face the direction a train would approach from, which no longer applies as trains now travel from both directions.

The Commission had also investigated several accidents where road-legal vehicles had become stuck on rail level crossings or had been too long to clear a rail level crossing and then stop, as required, at an adjacent road intersection.

"We found there is no routine procedure for measuring the profile or vertical alignment of the road at rail level crossings, which means there could be other level crossings in New Zealand on which low-slung but road-legal vehicles could become stuck," said Commissioner and spokesperson Stephen Davies Howard said.

In relation to helicopter safety, Robinson helicopters, which make up 40 per cent of helicopters registered in New Zealand, could be at risk of "catastrophic" accidents because of an issue called mast bumping.

Mast bumping involves contact between the inner part of a main rotor blade and the main rotor drive shaft, often having fatal consequences.

New Zealand authorities have investigated 14 mast bumping incidents that have claimed 18 lives since 1996.

"Four of our earlier recommendations made as a result of Robinson mast bump accidents have yet to be actioned. We therefore remain concerned that there is a real risk that we will see more of this type of accident," Mr Howard said.

The commission's role is to determine the circumstances and causes of accidents and incidents to help ensure that such accidents will not be repeated in the future.

It can only make recommendations, and it is up to regulators, operators, the Government and the people involved in transport every day whether to embrace them or not.

The Commission made further updates to its watchlist including the need for recreational boat skippers to demonstrate their knowledge before taking to the water; further changes needed in the area of substance abuse; and also the need for transport regulators to do more to encourage and where reasonable, require vehicle operators to use available tracking and location technologies.