The new operator of Auckland’s metro rail line has been told to up its game and better support train staff exposed to on-track collisions.

Auckland One Rail won the tender to run the trains on behalf of Auckland Transport and began its operations in January last year.

However, the Rail and Maritime Union said the new company’s approach to health and safety was unacceptable.  

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Kiwirail data for the year to June shows 40 vehicles or people collided with trains across the national rail network and there were 305 near misses.

At public level crossings there were 11 collisions and 192 near misses.

Near misses at level crossings have steadily increased each year since a low of 150 in 2021. All of the collisions at level crossings and 77 percent of near misses were at crossings that already have protection such as bells. 

Auckland Transport is working to remove all crossings over the next 30 years under its Level Crossing Removal Programme primarily because of these safety risks. 

In the meantime Northern Region organiser Rudd Hughes said there were no systems in place to support staff who had been involved in, or heard about traumatic events. 

“We wanted to get a support group for the train managers. Currently, there’s a support group for the locomotive engineers [the drivers] but that informal group was put together by our delegates. It’s not been put together by the company and we were saying what we needed was a support group, also for the train managers because they don’t have anything. 

“Then we asked for proper training around this stuff particularly for managers, because the managers didn’t seem to be wanting to take any responsibility for the situation. 

“They basically just said you can have the employee assistance programme and it’s not a bad programme. However, three sessions with that is probably not going to get you through having a fatality on the track, those situations are very traumatic.” 

He said instead of taking the union’s request onboard, the company went to WorkSafe to check if what they had in place was good enough.  

“Worksafe said no it’s not and dropped the [improvement notice] on them so it was kind of an own goal because if they had taken on board what we’d said and started doing it and then gone to WorkSafe then they wouldn’t have had the problem that they’ve got now.” 

He said the company had also restructured to get rid of the platform supervisor job, which was a critical health and safety role.  

“They were a key health and safety component of Britomart and Newmarket and they’ve just lumped that work onto other people… they just don’t seem to have a clue.” 

A WorkSafe spokesperson confirmed an improvement notice had been issued after an investigation into how the company was managing its psychosocial risks. 

“The assessment determined that the known psychosocial risk to workers of viewing, experiencing, or hearing about on-track collisions within Auckland One Rail Limited could be managed more effectively, and the controls in place to manage the risk require improvement.

“WorkSafe issued an improvement notice on September 6, requiring changes to be identified and implemented by April 2024.”

Auckland One Rail Health and Safety manager Lisa D’Oliveira said the company had been proactive and the recommendations from WorkSafe were in line with work that had already been initiated. 

“We are fully committed to ensuring any of our staff who see, experience or are affected by an on-track collision or near-miss know that they can rely on us as an employer to have the right support and processes in place.”

She confirmed until recently the support was to be offered access to the Employee Assistance Programme.

“Following review of these processes, we now have a commitment from our EAP provider that a specialist trauma counsellor will contact the affected crew member as soon as possible after an incident.

“We will continue to provide a team session with a counsellor who will outline the support available and offer the opportunity for the team to discuss together. Staff will continue to be offered individual EAP counselling and medical support, as needed.

“Additionally, we will be providing training for new drivers and train managers by qualified EAP trainers that will cover how to manage the impact of traumatic events and the support available to them – which any of our staff can access at any time, for any reason. Our operational managers will also receive training to help them identify staff who may not be coping well after an event.”

D’Oliveira said all roles were being reviewed to determine if there were other people who may need support after an incident.

“For example, we have identified that rail incident controllers should be included in this process.

“The safety and wellbeing of our people is of prime concern to us, and we are actively engaging with a range of industry partners to address psychosocial harm and associated issues experienced by staff following a serious incident.”

Auckland One Rail is a joint venture between the engineering firm UGL, which is part of Australia’s CIMIC Group, and ComfortDelGro Transit based out of Singapore.

The companies are collectively responsible for more than 640 million metro rail passenger journeys and 285 stations across rail networks in Singapore and Australia.

Emma Hatton is a business reporter based in Wellington.

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