Fears raised about rail bridge a week before girl’s death

Concerns were raised about a rail bridge in Ngāruawāhia just six days before an 11-year-old was killed at the out-of-bounds site.

Moareen Rameka was playing with friends on the bridge near Old Taupiri Road when she was hit by a freight train about 6pm on Sunday. She tried to run but was clipped by the train and died at the scene.

Several young people with the girl witnessed the accident.

This is the second death on the bridge – nine-year-old Jayden Tepu was killed in 2002 - and there have been major concerns about people jumping off the bridge into the river for many years.

Groups of people can be seen jumping from bridge most hot summer days. Efforts to deter them over the years haven’t worked.

Ngāruawāhia Mayor Alan Sanson says a group of concerned community leaders visited him just last week to raise fears they had about children playing on the dangerous bridge. During those talks it was decided a community meeting would be held in the fortnight.

"I said to them when they left I hope it’s in better circumstances and we don’t end up with a disaster in the meantime – and that’s exactly what’s happened in this situation," Mr Sanson told Newshub.

"It’s a shame this has happened before we’ve had a chance to once again educate the children and the parents of the children around the perils of playing on the bridge."

Mr Sanson says he doesn’t think there’s anything more anyone – police, local council or KiwiRail – could have done to prevent Moareen’s death.

"I don’t know what can be done – that’s the $10,000 question. The only thing we can do is go back to the community and make them aware of perils of jumping off and playing on the bridge."

For the past three years hundreds of children in the town have attended rail safety workshops which specifically highlight the dangers of the rail bridge.

KiwiRail has gone to great lengths to stop people being going on the bridge over the years, including installing cameras, putting up high fences and barbed wire and issuing trespass notices.

But the lure of the excitement of jumping from the bridge is strong – people have even used cars to rip down fences. Anyone determined to the get on the bridge can do easily by walking along the tracks at either end.

KiwiRail has looked at the option of putting in electronic gates at each end of bridge but there were concerns with children becoming trapped.

Chief executive Peter Reidy says train drivers slow down and sound the horn as they approach the Ngāruawāhia bridge.

"In the aftermath of this tragedy we will look again to see if there is something more that we and the community can possibly do," he told Newshub.

He added that these tragedies also have a huge impact on the train drivers.

Locals Newshub spoke to in Ngāruawāhia all said there was little more that could be done to stop children going on to the bridge and parents said it was something that played constantly on their mind.

"The whole community is always concerned for the kids but they just won’t listen and they have to wait until something like this happens," Joyce Symons, a teacher aide at Ngāruawāhia Primary School who taught Moareen, told Newshub.

"It’s a sad, sad loss of life. They’ve (authorities) tried everything – they’ve put barriers up and they still get through. I don’t have an answer for it."

Ms Symons says having more for the children to do in the town would help.

"There’s no money in the town so what people do have keeps them going from day to day and that’s there fun – the river."

Blair Reede, whose children attend Ngāruawāhia Primary School, says he often warns his kids not to go near the bridge. He says he was surprised to see how many people jump from the bridge when he moved to the town a few years ago.

"That bridge is just dangerous," he told Newshub.

Mr Reede suggested a waterslide be installed along the river so children had another area play.

Moareen’s family have set up a Givealittle page for the funeral costs.

"The family is devastated as her death was such a shock to us all," her sister Joanna Lines wrote on the page. "I’ve created this page on behalf of my family and baby sister to help them with anything in need. Anything will be a blessing towards this tragedy."

Moareen has been described as bubbly, kind and well-mannered.

A town meeting will be held in the next fortnight to discuss what more can be done to stop another tragedy. 


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