Auckland train driver speaks out about mental 'torture' of fatalities on railway tracks

An Auckland train driver has opened up about the long-term mental health effects of witnessing fatalities on the tracks ahead of Rail Safety Week.

Kevin Komiti suffers from PTSD after witnessing three deaths while driving a train and is speaking out about the impact it's had on his life.

Nearly every day at least one New Zealander experiences a near-miss, and so does at least one New Zealand train driver.

Pedestrians step out without looking, narrowly avoiding disaster. They're lucky to escape with their lives but leave scars on the engineers driving the trains.

In the past twelve months, KiwiRail recorded more than 300 near-misses across the rail network.

But even worse, some drivers have to deal with fatalities. Kevin Komiti's life changed forever after witnessing a double fatality in front of his train at a crossing.

It was the second incident causing death in his 10-year career - and as a result of the residual trauma, he's no longer working as a locomotive engineer.

"I know it's not my fault but, I was still in charge of that train that took their lives," the father-of-four told Newshub.

Komiti lives each day with flashbacks of the two people who died. He's been diagnosed with PTSD.

"You'd be doing something and suddenly you just go blank and drop everything, no energy to do it whatsoever and all you can think about is what you've done," he says.

"It's like we're in prison in our head, we can't get out of it, we can't help it either. I've done counselling, I'm on medication, it just numbs my feelings. When I'm back to normal I still get those feelings.

"It's like torture, it's like you're being haunted by the people you killed. It's like they're punishing you for what you've done."

KiwiRail CEO Greg Miller says it's the worst part of the job.

"These things don't go away quickly for the drivers," he told Newshub. "They've seen something, they've been involved in it, it's really traumatic."

A freight train weighing 1000 tonnes can take a kilometre to come to a stop once the emergency brakes are applied.

It also can take about 100m for commuter trains in Auckland and Wellington to come to a complete halt, leaving the drivers helpless if a person or car is on the path of the train.

In 2019, 15 people died on the rail corridor. From January to June this year, eight people had already been killed.

As Rail Safety Week kicks off, TrackSAFE NZ Foundation manager Megan Drayton is calling on people to take greater care when crossing the railway line.

Komiti's stepped down from his role until he is confident enough to be inside the cab again but wants the public to know split-second decisions can cause long-term effects.

"We drivers can't stop trains like cars, we don't just hit the brakes and stop," he says.

"It's heavy machinery we drive, the train won't stop in time. I could see you within 10m - I still can't stop in time.

"Please be aware that people who are in control of those trains are also human beings, it's not easy for them, they have families as well."

Because what happens in that split second can end a life - but also harm the lives of so many others.