Significant Level Crossing Safety Risks At Waingawa Logging Hub / Waingawa Industrial Park

Waingawa is a station at 85 km on the Wairarapa Line, 9 km north of Carterton and within Carterton District. The site was formerly known for the Waingawa Freezing Works, which had its own industrial sidings. There was a platform and station building for passenger use. It is likely that this would have included some passengers travelling to and from the works each day who worked there. The works closed in 1989, and the station was largely closed by 1992 except for servicing private sidings. This included the Juken New Zealand mill at the north-eastern end of Waingawa, on the south-eastern side of the railway close to the bank of the Waingawa River. The JNL siding was closed some years ago and is currently disconnected from the main line. The old freezing works gradually decayed after closure although part of the site soon became a sawmill. The north-western area near Norfolk Road is the Masterton Saleyards, formerly with stock loading facilities to rail, which is still in use for that purpose today but without the rail siding. The freezing works had its own separate unloading area with a siding adjacent to its yards which probably ceased to be used in the 1960s. The saleyards siding area is where the log hub is located today and log loading operations make use of the sidings of what used to be the main station yard.

In the late 2000s the possibility of loading logs at Waingawa was investigated at around the same time as Carterton District Council looked at developing an industrial park in the area. The rail hub was opened about 2012 and logs were loaded there to be be railed to CentrePort in Wellington. Latterly the site became more of a CentrePort / Wellington Regional Council project rather than one led by Kiwirail. The loading sidings have been further extended in recent years to increase the yard capacity to enable additional volumes of logs to be handled. General industrial development, what has subsequently become the Industrial Park, has been happening around Waingawa for decades, but it accelerated during the 2000s and at the present land on both sides of the railway has become developed although that on the north side is mainly the expanded sawmill, log loading, saleyards and the Mainfreight depot.

Waingawa in 1970, the view dominated by the freezing works upper left, which was in full swing at the time. The saleyards with its loading area outlined as (Y) can be seen towards the centre.
Waingawa in 2021. The extent of development in the past 50 years is readily apparent. The freezing works site is now occupied by the sawmill and a lot of land on the south side of the railway is industrialised.

The development of the area naturally has brought a lot of road traffic in and the nature of the development on both sides of the railway line means that road design should have been integrated with the two railway crossings (Norman Avenue and Norfolk Road) in order to allow for safe operations of heavy commercial vehicles across these two sites. The best means of this safe operation would be one crossing combining those two sites. If that is not possible then the position of Waingawa Road so close to the railway (only a few metres of separation) and the extension of the three way intersection of Norman Avenue and Waingawa Road in particular, into a four way with a new street, Pakihi Road, coming off opposite Waingawa Road off Norman Avenue. This intersection and adjacent crossing are shown in more detail below.

Norman Avenue – Waingawa Road – Pakihi Road intersection. Upper left is the site of Mainfreight’s depot and upper right is the Kiwi Lumber sawmill yard. The crossing handles 870 vehicles daily, a high figure for a short road into a handful of sites.

On 20 October 2017, a collision occurred between a truck and a Wairarapa commuter passenger train at the level crossing on Norman Avenue. Media reports said that the train hit the trailer on a logging truck that was going over the crossing. This was most likely a truck carrying logs to the Kiwi Lumber sawmill which is on the north side of the crossing. Carterton District Council stated the reason for the accident was that “trucks are moving too slowly across the crossing”. This displayed a large level of lack of understanding about traffic flow between the crossing and the road intersection, including the intersection being too close to the crossing. It is easy to understand why a truck would be travelling slowly across the crossing. They would have had to stop at the intersection to check that it was clear, before moving off onto the approach to the railway crossing. Subject to receiving any official investigation information on the crash (which has been requested) it can reasonably be surmised the low speed over the crossing results from the time which it took the long truck and trailer to accelerate in the very short distance between the intersection and the crossing. The driver could have been distracted from checking the crossing alarms by the task of crossing the intersection safely and there is insufficient space between the crossing and intersection for them to be able to stop safely should they have only noticed the alarms were operating when they cleared the intersection.

According to the news report, Carterton District Council’s proposed remedy for addressing the level crossing issues was to paint lines on the crossing. It appears the council did not have the ability to understand traffic management issues around the crossing and the important of issues such as stacking clearance and overshoots. The issues relating to speed of movement of trucks are very different from private vehicles. The majority of vehicle movements in this area are heavy commercial vehicles because it is an industrial area, not a residential area. HCVs have very different characteristics from private cars or light trucks and this has to be allowed for in road design in areas such as these.

Although Kiwirail has upgraded the Norman Avenue railway crossing alarms to half arm barriers, the Carterton District Council has not taken any action to address the key safety issue of the crossing being too close to the intersection in Norman Avenue. This means the possibility of further similar incidents in the future remains unaddressed. There is a second level crossing at Waingawa that is on Norfolk Road. It is shown below.

Norfolk Road level crossing. There is insufficient stacking clearance between the intersection with Waingawa Road (to the left) and the crossing.

Whilst there are fewer safety risks in design at the Norfolk Road crossing, it carries a much higher traffic volume as it is a through traffic road. A significant volume of movements are likely to be logging trucks and trailers moving in and out of the log loading area.

TSBNZ believes the Carterton District Council should look at options for closing the Norman Avenue crossing and making the Norfolk Road crossing serve all of the industrial sites through to Wilton Road that are on the north side of the railway line. This would mean forming a new road through to link to the upper part of Norman Avenue which is on the north side of the railway line. There is scarcely any sound rationale for keeping both crossings open but closing Norfolk Road would inconvenience a much greater volume of traffic. The intersection with Waingawa Road should also be relocated further from the crossing to eliminate the stacking clearance issue.