' Crash Driver admits nodding off '


THE train driver involved in a major derailment in Taranaki last year has admitted falling asleep at the controls. A report released by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIA) last week stated the drivers involved in three accidents last year had dozed off while in control of Tranz Rail trains.

The November accident at Kai Iwi, south of Waverley, spilt 40,000 litres of Kiwi Co-operative Dairies milk. The other accidents attributed to snoozing drivers involved a freight train at Westmere, near Wanganui last September, and a head-on crash between two express trains in December.

Despite the drivers' actions, the TAIC was not critical of them in the report. Instead it recommended to Tranz Rail that it change the way the company approached driver rosters, and made checks on how many hours they were working. Rail and Marine Transport Union spokesman Brian Cronin, of Wellington, said yesterday safety problems with the rail company had been well documented in the past year. Sleep deprivation and overworked drivers had been a major problem with Tranz Rail. However, Mr Cronin said things were now starting to move in the right direction, with Tranz Rail improving its safety standards. Kiwi Co-Operative Dairies freight transport manager Gary Webber said driver problems with Tranz Rail did not involve the Hawera-based company, even though it was a major transporter of product. "It is an issue for Tranz Rail. We are just like anyone that uses Tranz Rail, we are just a passenger and we'll leave it at that," he said.
Tranz Rail spokesperson Sue Foley said the company had made several changes since the accidents. They included employing more drivers, making sure they did not work more than 11 hours a day, and giving them adequate breaks. "We took these incidents incredibly seriously and we haven't had any incidents since," she said.
She said Tranz Rail came under much more intense scrutiny than the trucking industry, where drivers also worked long hours.
The last milk train derailment, near Maxwell, on January 17, was not investigated by the TAIC because it appeared it could offer no safety message.

©2004 Fairfax New Zealand