Playing Roulette with freight trains

Photo: File.

No one has died. Not yet. But it could be only time.

They are the jumpers, the people who trespass on the rail bridge over the Chapel St causeway, using it as a diving platform.

Both Police and KiwiRail are aware of the dangerous practice but have been unable to stop it.

This week KiwiRail spoke out in an effort to deter the jumpers after the warm weather created a procession of jumpers up the steep embankment from the beach to the bridge.

“KiwiRail has received four reports of trespassing on the bridge over the past year,” says KiwiRail’s group general manager for zero harm Katie McMahon. “Police have been notified.”

The Weekend Sun visited the beach below the rail bridge this week. Kids were scaling the bank and either clambering around the safety fencing or walking directly down the railway line onto the bridge. ‘What about the danger?’ we asked one young jumper in his early-teens. He just shrugged. ‘Do you want to die?’ Another shrug. ‘What happens if a train comes?’ “We just jump,” he laughed. He was back on the bridge moments later.

 At best the jumpers are dicing with a substantial maximum fine of $10,000 or at worst, death.

 “There have been fatalities of children playing on and jumping from rail bridges and this is a tragic situation for everyone,” says Katie.

“KiwiRail’s bridges – including Tauranga – have signs warning of the dangers and alerting people to the consequences for illegal trespass.”

Recently an 11-year-old girl was killed while playing on a train bridge across the Waikato River at Ngaruawahia. The bridge is a popular spot for locals to jump from into the river and stopping people from climbing on it is a hard task – despite fences, cameras and threats of fines.

Signs at both ends of the Chapel St rail bridge say: ‘Danger, tracks are for trains, keep out, trespassing is an offence, penalty $10,000’.  But on the Tauranga bridge, one sign was obliterated with graffiti and the other is difficult to read. And as The Weekend Sun observed, they are also ignored. Last night a boy of about 10 was watched clambering up the bridge embankment, around the safety fence and onto the rail bridge. He was encouraged by an older boy below. The youngster hung about nervously on the railway line before jumping. Just five minutes later a train hauling dozens of containers rumbled by and into the container terminal.

“Drivers often sound their horns before bridges and may slow the train,” says Katie. “However there are other risks in driving too slow across bridges, including people jumping on to trains and incidents where drivers have had things thrown at their windows.

“Our drivers’ emotional and physical wellbeing is put at risk when people play on our tracks and counselling is often needed following an incident.”

Katie says safety is KiwiRail’s number one priority “for the public and our people, particularly our Locomotive engineers”.

“Tracks are for trains and any trespassing on the rail corridor is dangerous as trains are big, heavy and cannot stop quickly. It is critical for communities that people stay off the tracks and rail bridges and that children are made aware of the dangers of this behaviour.”

KiwiRail has an education programme for schools and encourages families and communities to educate kids about the dangers on the rail network, particularly during holidays. Trains can approach from either direction at any time and the only way to stay safe is to stay off the tracks and bridges.

Katie says KiwiRail has also extended the safety fencing at this site and regularly checks on the signage because it has been removed in the past.