Yesterday’s appalling accident with a woman in a wheelchair being caught in the tracks at Morningside rail crossing, highlights several problems with the hierarchies operating in our transportation systems.
In the end, all the rescuers could do was tip the chair on its side and leap out of the way.
“[The woman] fell clear but the wheel chair was still on the tracks,” Mereau said. ”That got caught by the train. The lady was still close to the wheelchair so she got dragged along.”
The woman remains in a critical condition today.
Top of the priority tree is given to motorised vehicles and roads. Secondary to this comes the organisation of public transport: buses, trains, ferries. Arrangements for pedestrians are often pretty low in the hierarchy. People with disabilities are increasingly being catered for, but they remain a very low priority as shown by news reports on yesterday’s accident..
As a car driver, public transport user, pedestrian and ex cyclist & motorcyclist I have long been aware of the low priority given to pedestrians around Auckland. It’s especially noticeable with the upgrades at places like New Lynn. At such places the road and footpath arrangements have been constantly changing. Each time I arrive on foot to some train stations or bus terminals, the footpaths have been changed, often requiring the pedestrian to negotiate an unfamiliar, re-routed obstacle course. Usually it takes longer than expected, sometimes having to wait for more than one lot of traffic lights changes, and is frustrating when rushing to catch a train or bus on time.
Generally footpaths away from main routes around Auckland can be uneven, and prone to causing tripping and slipping. There are extra hazards of trying to avoid vehicles backing out of drives. Traffic lights and roundabouts clearly show motor vehicles are first consideration. There’s those “free” left turns at traffic lights, often with a constant stream of traffic, while the pedestrian has to find a gap in which to dash between the stream of cars.
At lights some vehicles turning on/after the orange or red lights, and impatient drivers when both vehicles and walkers have the right to proceed, add anxiety to the pedestrian experience.
All these things must be extremely hazardous for people in wheelchairs. Yet the reports show that they are just expected to accept the conditions, and wait for fairly long periods for upgrades. Last night RNZ reported that:
The accident happened on an undulating footpath that passes over at least three sets of tracks.
KiwiRail says there have been previous incidents at the scene and it upgraded the tracks last year.
Local ward councillor Cathy Casey says she is shocked to think people in wheelchairs could be at risk at train crossings.
She says safety measures such as barrier arms and warning bells aren’t enough, as they are often ignored.
KiwiRail says the incident with the wheelchair becoming stuck on the tracks is an unusual event that has never happened in New Zealand before.
The company’s chief executive Jim Quinn says a full investigation is underway which will determine whether the gaps, which should be around 69 millimetres, are too wide.
Mr Quinn says staff will be at the crossing on Monday night to check if there are any problems with people in wheelchairs passing the tracks.
But the chair of Auckland Council’s disability strategic advisory group says several other people have become stuck in their wheelchairs at the Morningside level crossing.
Huhana Hickey, who chairs the disability strategic advisory group on the Auckland Council, says she has the same wheelchair and it does get stuck in nooks and crannies.
Dr Hickey says three or four people have told her they have had trouble at the Morningside crossing.
Campbell Live last night, showed that, white arrows marked on the crossing are evidence that the Morningside rail crossing had been registered as a hazard some time before the accident: see about 1min 53 into the Campbell Live video. Following this in the video, the reporter Kate King asks who is responsible for fixing the hazard? “The people who run the roads, the people who run the trains, or the super city council.” According to Albert-Eden Community Board Member Graeme Easte, some people have been debating whether the road goes over the railway tracks or vice versa, in an attempt to identify who has ultimate responsibility. He says the ARC (Auckland Regional Council) put up some money for upgrades a few years ago, but no other organisation followed with further money, and nothing happened.
Kiwirail upgraded the Morningside rail/road intersection in 2011, but left the footpath remained cracked and uneven. Campbell Live showed this is a hazard to cyclists and pushchairs. There’s a lot of these kind of crossings in Auckland, and the planned new electric trains will be quieter, and harder for pedestrians and wheelchair users to hear than the current ones.
Adding to the hassles for wheelchair users, I have also heard that some people in electric chairs can’t take them on buses because their combined weights are above the current limit.
Wheelchairs and some mobility scooters can be carried on a bus subject to the following restrictions:
Maximum length: 1200mm
Maximum width: 700mm
Maximum weight: 240kg (combined weight of wheelchair and user)
As constantly argued by the Greens, our public transport system needs to be given higher priority. As Julie Anne Genter argued yesterday, the public also wants a better system. Along with this, high priority also should be given to pedestrians and accessibility for all.