No change to train speed limit after Waikato girl's death on rail bridge

Trains travelling through a small Waikato town where an 11-year-old was killed last year will not have to further reduce their speed, a Coroner says. 

Moareen Rameeka died after being hit by a KiwiRail freight train on a rail bridge at Ngaruawahia on March 18.

She was playing with a friend on the rail bridge at the time. The other girl managed to jump free but Moareen was fatally struck by the train.

Findings by Coroner Gordon Matenga, released on Monday, show KiwiRail acknowledges the girl may have survived had the train been travelling at 50km/h, rather than 60km/h. 

However, Mr Matenga said he was persuaded by KiwiRail's submission that reducing the maximum speed in that area to 50km/h "would send the wrong message to the Ngaruawahia community".

In evidence given to the Coroner, KiwiRail chief operating officer Henare Clark said further speed restrictions tried in the past led to more people going on to the rail bridge.

"This led to jumping from the top of the railway bridge onto trains or hi-rail vehicles and stone throwing," Mr Clark's submission to the Coroner states.

"KiwiRail is concerned that a reduced speed limit may lead children and others to believe they will be able to outrun the train on the railway bridge and that playing on or jumping from the railway bridge is now safer activity thus encouraging taking the risk." 

The findings say Moareen had previously been warned not to play around the rail bridge area by her whanau. 

In October, the girl's mother, Juanita Lines, told Newshub she wanted the trains to slow down so no other family had to go through what she had.

"Slowing the trains down would've been awesome, because that might have given her those seconds to jump," she said.

Ms Lines described the tragedy as "the worst thing you could ever go through."  

Significant safety concerns around the rail bridge at Ngaruawahia have been raised for many years. During summer groups of children and adults can be seen jumping from the bridge into the river below. In addition, young people are known to use the bridge to cross the river and also play on the rail tracks. 

In 2002 a nine year old boy was killed in similar circumstances to Moareen. The boy was walking north across the railway bridge when a southbound train approached. He turned and ran but tripped and fell. 

Coroner Matenga made no recommendations in relation to Moareen's death and concluded: "Moareen's death was preventable and the community is key to that prevention.

"Everyone has a responsibility to care for and lookout for each other. The Ngaruawahia community have acknowledged that responsibility and are taking encouraging steps towards sharing the message that playing on ... the railway bridge is risky behaviour and should be avoided".

Over the years various safety measures have been put in place by KiwiRail including CCTV cameras, fencing, signage, anti-climb and anti-dig measures on fencing, community safety events, speed restrictions and educational awareness programmes in schools. Several community meetings have also been held. Further town meetings and safety awareness campaigns have been held since Moareen's death.

Coroner Matenga said in his findings: "I understand the frustration I felt from (Waikato District Councillor) Janet Gibb when she exclaimed in court, 'I don't know what else we can do'." 

The findings also gave details about what happened the day Moareen was killed. A witness told the Coroner's court: "I started yelling run baby. The train caught up to the girl and I knew something bad had happened".

The findings also included comments from train drivers Nathan Anderson and Mike Fleck. Mr Anderson was a trainee driver at the time and was being supervised by Mr Fleck.

Mr Fleck said they sounded the warning whistle as they approached an intersection just south of the rail bridge. The train was travelling 60km/h at the time.

Trains travelling through Ngaruawahia are required to sound the horn each time they approach three level crossings in the area. There are also bells and barrier arms at each crossing which activate as the train approaches.

Trains must travel under 60km/h and drivers are required to sound the horn as they approach the bridge to alert anyone who may be on the rail bridge.

Some in the community have requested a safe place for people to jump off into the river be installed to stop people jumping from the rail bridge. 

Coroner Matenga said such an idea would be fraught with health and safety concerns. He also said it was decided that a footbridge parallel to the rail bridge not be installed as "it was felt it would be counterproductive to attract people towards the tracks and away from the footpath".

Further comment has been sought from Moareen Rameeka's whanau.