Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency FAILS To Improve Level Crossing Safety In Pukehina / Pongakawa

SunLive reported on October 14th that Waka Kotahi NZTA announced that it would commit to supporting improvements to four level crossings in the Pukehina area on the East Coast Main Trunk Railway. These crossings include the following:

Benner Road, Pongakawa. ALCAM Level Crossing 1564 at 137.13 km, GPS 176.5067, -37.8186. Stop signs only. Daily rail traffic 12, daily road traffic 225. Road controlling authority: Western Bay of Plenty DIstrict Council.

Benner Road is located off State Highway 2 as shown in the map below (from the ALCAM website).

Identifiable hazards at Benner Road Level Crossing include:

  • There are two 90 degree turns in the road approaching the crossing from the south. These turns make it difficult for vehicles travelling from the south towards State Highway 2 to obtain and maintain a good view of trains approaching the crossing as vehicles arrive at the crossing. This is due to vehicles as they reach the crossing itself, travelling parallel to the railway tracks, making it impossible to see a train approaching from the west until they make the second left hand turn almost at the crossing.
  • Benner Road Level Crossing is 40 metres from the edge of a busy state highway SH2. Vehicles travelling from the east on SH2 and making a left turn into Benner Road will not be able to see trains approaching the level crossing from the east until they have completed the 90 degree turn at the intersection shortly before reaching the crossing.
  • The Benner Road intersection with State Highway 2 poses a high hazard risk for vehicles making a right turn from SH2 into Benner Road 40 metres from the level crossing. The workload for a driver in making and safely completing a turn across a busy traffic flow on SH2 (over 7000 vehicles per day or 300 an hour on average over 24 hours) creates a conflict between the need to safely and quickly complete a right turn and then be able to stop at the level crossing should a train be coming. The 40 metres between the highway edge and the level crossing may be insufficient to safely stop after completing the turning/crossing manouevre across the highway. Vehicles making a right turn across SH2 will not be able to see trains approaching from the west until they are almost on the crossing.

The safety improvements proposed for Benner Road include barrier arms, bells and lights, but do not appear to address the crossing being too close to the intersection. Consequently, we do not have faith in the ability of NZTA to fully recognise and address all safety factors at the intersection as being relevant to the safety of the level crossing.


SH2 Paengaroa Level Crossing. ALCAM Level Crossing 1885 at 127.41 km, GPS 176.4041 / -37.8049. Half arm barriers / flashing lights. Daily rail traffic 12, daily road traffic 7250. Road controlling authority: NZTA – Tauranga.

The above aerial is not correct as the level crossing is now approached on the west side by a long curved exit road off a roundabout that is 100 metres north of the level crossing. This has replaced the T intersection shown above.

Identifiable hazards at SH2 Paengaroa Level Crossing include:

  • High volume of traffic over the level crossing.
  • 90 degree bend close to the level crossing on its western approach.

We are not aware of any accident history at this crossing and at the present do not consider it to pose high risk to road users. NZTA state “We’re making the Paengaroa SH2 level crossing safer by installing lights and bells to warn drivers when a train is coming, better signage to give people early warning of the railway crossing, as well as improving street lighting and clearing vegetation so drivers have better visibility of the crossing.”


Ohinepanea Road, Ohinepanea. ALCAM Level Crossing 1566 at 142.43 km, GPS 176.5652 / -37.8218. Give way signs only. Daily rail traffic 12, daily road traffic 115. Road controlling authority: Western Bay of Plenty District Council.

Identifiable hazards at Ohinepanea Road Level Crossing include:

  • Possible stacking distance risk with only 20 metres available from the edge of the highway to the level crossing.
  • Ohinepanea Road Level Crossing is 20 metres from the edge of a busy state highway SH2. Vehicles travelling from the east on SH2 and making a left turn into Ohinepanea Road will not be able to see trains approaching the level crossing from the east until they have completed the 90 degree turn at the intersection shortly before reaching the crossing.
  • The Ohinepanea Road intersection with State Highway 2 poses a high hazard risk for vehicles making a right turn from SH2 into Ohinepanea Road just 20 metres from the level crossing, or for vehicles making a straight crossing from Rogers Road into Ohinepanea Road. The workload for a driver in making and safely completing a turn/crossing across a busy traffic flow on SH2 (over 7000 vehicles per day or 300 an hour on average over 24 hours) creates a conflict between the need to safely and quickly complete the turning / crossing manouevre and then be able to stop at the level crossing should a train be coming. The 20 metres between the highway edge and the level crossing is very likely insufficient safely stop after completing the turning/crossing manouevre across the highway. Vehicles making a right turn across SH2 will not be able to see trains approaching from the west until they are almost on the crossing.

The safety improvements implemented for the Ohinepanea Road Level Crossing have included:

  • improving road signs and markings to give people early warning of the crossing
  • improving the street lighting so drivers have better visibility of the crossing
  • widening the road shoulder and improving site drainage. (This work apparently addresses directly too short stacking distance concerns for queueing traffic at the intersection)
  • renewing the surface to make the tracks easier to drive across.

These measures do not appear to address issues related to the crossing being too close to the intersection for traffic which must cross over the highway before reaching the level crossing. Consequently, we do not have faith in the ability of NZTA to fully recognise and address all safety factors at the intersection as being relevant to the safety of the level crossing.


Pongakawa School Road, Pongakawa. ALCAM Level Crossing 1562 at 134.27 km, GPS 176.4751 / -37.8242. Flashing lights only. Daily rail traffic 12, daily road traffic 708. Road controlling authority: Western Bay of Plenty District Council.

Pongakawa School Road Level Crossing was the site of a fatal level crossing accident in 2019 resulting in two deaths and three injuries.

Identifiable hazards at Pongakawa School Road Level Crossing include:

  • Possible stacking distance risk with only 20 metres available from the edge of the highway to the level crossing.
  • Pongokawa School Road Level Crossing is 20 metres from the edge of a busy state highway SH2. Vehicles travelling from the east on SH2 and making a left turn into Pongokawa School Road will not be able to see trains approaching the level crossing from the east until they have completed the 90 degree turn at the intersection shortly before reaching the crossing.
  • The Pongokawa School Road intersection with State Highway 2 poses a high hazard risk for vehicles making a right turn from SH2 into Pongokawa School Road just 20 metres from the level crossing. The workload for a driver in making and safely completing a turn/crossing across a busy traffic flow on SH2 (over 7000 vehicles per day or 300 an hour on average over 24 hours) creates a conflict between the need to safely and quickly complete the turning / crossing manouevre and then be able to stop at the level crossing should a train be coming. The 20 metres between the highway edge and the level crossing is very likely insufficient safely stop after completing the turning/crossing manouevre across the highway. Vehicles making a right turn across SH2 will not be able to see trains approaching from the west until they are almost on the crossing.

The safety improvements implemented for the Pongokawa School Road Level Crossing have included:

  • improving road signs and markings to give people early warning of the crossing
  • installing barrier arms and flashing lights to give people advance warning of the railway crossing
  • widening the road shoulder and improving site drainage (to address short stacking issues)
  • renewing the surface to make the tracks easier to drive across.

These measures do not appear to address issues related to the crossing being too close to the intersection for traffic which must cross over the highway before reaching the level crossing. Consequently, we do not have faith in the ability of NZTA to fully recognise and address all safety factors at the intersection as being relevant to the safety of the level crossing.


Summary: Whilst NZTA are to be lauded for attempting to address issues relating to level crossing safety on or around their network, the improvements being implemented fail to recognise and address some major safety hazards for road users and therefore bring into question the competence of road designers to assess all safety hazards pertaining to level crossings in an objective way. One risk which appears to be completely ignored is the lack of stopping or braking distance for vehicles making a right turn from the highway onto the level crossing which we believe is possibly a factor in the Pongakawa School Road level crossing accident and also in the more recent Cleverley Line level crossing accident near Palmerston North.

Kiwirail also appears to be incapable of addressing these issues in their assessment procedure according to a document outlining a procedure we obtained by downloading from the Kiwirail web site. We intend to address these matters further with the relevant authorities.