Waka Kotahi, Kiwirail and Waikato District Council have jointly announced the closure of Telephone Road Level Crossing, located at 11.08 km on the East Coast Main Trunk Railway between Ruakura and Eureka, to motor vehicle traffic.
As referenced in the preceding post, this crossing has been rated dangerous due to a number of factors, including: a humped roadway over the crossing causing grounding which in three incidents in the past seven years has damaged the railway track; short stacking distance; higher rate of level crossing accidents there compared with Eureka Level Crossing at 15.43 km nearby. Roading authorities are also concerned with the dangerous assymetrical four way intersection with high accident rate immediately south of the crossing; and Transport Safety Blog NZ is concerned by the lack of separation between the intersection and crossing increasing the risk of driver distraction, which could itself be a factor in the higher number of level crossing accidents.
The crossing will be closed to motor vehicles, but a pedestrian/cyclist crossing will be provided according to Kiwirail standards. The work needed to alter the crossing is expected to cost around $2 million. Waka Kotahi states that this has not been allowed for in the current three-year transport plan and therefore the permanent works will have to be funded in the 2024-2027 plan, with no guarantee of this actually occurring. This seems to be a complete abdication of responsibility by Waka Kotahi for this project. On the one hand they are keen to implement the Road to Zero concept and close dangerous intersections and roadways, yet on the other hand they claim there is not enough funding for some of these projects. It looks very much like Waka Kotahi wants to absolve itself of all responsibility for anything to do with level crossing issues.
Transport Safety Blog NZ is concerned that the closure on this crossing means locals face a lengthy detour to the next nearest crossing at Eureka. If there is a train breakdown or fail-safe failure of the alarms at this crossing resulting in the alarms operating when there is no train present or approaching, the inevitability that people will feel compelled to bypass the operating alarms is a serious safety risk. This pressure exists because the next level crossing to the east from Eureka is on SH26 at 24.55 km, which is almost 9 km in a straight line and in practice a lot further by road considering the distances inherent in the local roading layout. In other words, there must be a reasonable level of provision in railway crossings (grade-separated or at-grade) in every part of a community. In a rural area, the need will not be as great as in urban, but the need still has to be addressed. Further analysis will be carried out to suggest an optimum frequency of crossings in the area and submitted to the local MP or territorial council for consideration.