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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 6 (September 1, 1936)

Railway Progress In New Zealand — General Manager's Message. — Level Crossings

page 4

Railway Progress In New Zealand
General Manager's Message.
Level Crossings.

As the question of safety at level-crossings has been raised in connection with the introduction of rail cars, and suggestions have been made that the potential danger to road-users might be increased with the replacement of steam trains by the faster and quieter-moving rail-cars, it may be of interest from the point of view of the public to place on record experienced official opinion regarding the matter.

Firstly, compared with either the driver of the steam train or the road vehicle, the driver of the rail-car is much more favourably placed in regard to three important aspects affecting the safety of movement of the vehicle under his control, i.e., visibility, control and concentration.

The wide and unobstructed visibility of the driver, seated in front of the rail-car, beside the guard, has been the subject of much favourable comment by many persons who have had the opportunity of riding in the driver's compartment and viewing the line from this most interesting position. Representatives of the Press, in particular, have been most interested in the view from this angle, and have conveyed through the columns of their respective papers personal observations that should do much to remove some wrong impressions.

Guided by its own wheels and freed of any necessity for steering, the rail-car finds its own pathway without the aid of the driver, whose whole attention can, without effort, be applied to what is in front of him.

The driver's ability to concentrate without the distraction of having to manipulate a steering wheel in order to keep on the track or clear of opposing and following vehicles, leaves him free to operate the controls and Westinghouse brake according to circumstances as they may arise.

The rail-car, with a powerfully operated Westinghouse rim brake applied on each of its six wheels simultaneously, and ample sanding appliances, plus a hand-brake operating on the front bogie and rear wheels, can be controlled in exactly the same way as any properly equipped and driven road vehicle, and there is no reason why the driver of the rail-car (designed as it is to stop and start with the same facility as a road vehicle) should not, when there is any doubt, approach a level-crossing with the same care and caution as a careful driver of a motor car would approach a doubtful intersection in a busy thoroughfare.

Then, again, the rail-car is fitted with a powerful, penetrating and distinctive syren which can be freely used according to circumstances, and experience has shown that it will not be misunderstood.

However, with all the care and caution the drivers of the rail-cars may take, the onus of satisfying themselves that the railway line is safe to pass over still rests upon the road-user, and this must inevitably always be the case so long as level-crossings remain.

That “eternal vigilance is the price of safety” is a motto followed by all railwaymen, and it could well be adopted by all road-users as a guiding principle in the observance of the law on the subject of motor traffic at levelcrossings, which reads as follows:—

(1) Every person driving a motor-vehicle on any road or street shall when approaching a railway-crossing reduce speed when within one hundred yards of the crossing to a rate not exceeding fifteen miles an hour, and shall not increase speed until after he has crossed the railway-line. It shall be his duty to keep a vigilant lookout for approaching trains, and he shall not attempt to cross unless the line is clear.

(2) If at any such crossing there is a “compulsory-stop” sign, erected pursuant to regulations under the Motorvehicles Act, 1924, or by the railway authorities, it shall be the duty of the person driving any motor-vehicle as aforesaid to stop at such sign for such time as may be necessary to make adequate observations to ascertain whether or not the line is clear.

(3) Every person who fails to comply with the requirements of this section or who crosses or attempts to cross any railway-line while the same is not clear commits an offence and is liable to a fine of ten pounds.

After travelling many thousands of miles by rail-car and passing over practically every level-crossing in New Zealand (many of them on numerous occasions), I hold the view that the introduction of the rail-car, where it replaces a steam-driven train, will minimise rather than increase the possibility of accidents at level-crossings.

General Manager.