How can you say the trains are safe when the brakes didn’t work?

May 29th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

“I’ve got no brakes, brace yourselves,” a train driver yelled to his passengers, seconds before the new Matangi unit smashed into a concrete buffer in Lower Hutt.

The front carriage was pushed two metres into the air as the train failed to stop at the end of the Melling line at 8.10am yesterday.

Very fortunate there wasn’t a serious loss of life.

Greater Wellington Regional Council, which owns Tranz Metro’s fleet of new Korean-built Matangi trains, said they had no history of brake troubles.

“The trains do not have a problem with their brakes,” council chairwoman Fran Wilde said, adding that the fleet was insured and still under warranty.

I’d say the brakes not working is a problem. And who cares about the warranty. I care about trains being able to stop.

Deborah Hume, ’s general manager, passenger, said commuters were not at risk. “I take them [trains] myself and I believe they are safe.”

How can you say that? Unless the crash was obviously human error, then there is potentially a very serious problem.

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47 Responses to “How can you say the trains are safe when the brakes didn’t work?”

  1. Colville (2,085 comments) says:

    Fran Wilde wouldn’t know the truth if it bit her on the arse.

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  2. RRM (9,478 comments) says:

    I wouldn’t assume the whole system is fundamentally broken because one 2-car unit had a brake failure. You get that with complex machinery that has moving parts. What matters is the frequency of faults. You’re a maths & stats guy, you get that, right?

    There was an issue a few years ago where some Ford Falcons were recalled because of steering rack faults. Does that mean you’d never drive a Falcon, or even get in one, if it was the only taxi at the airport?

    What about Toyota Corollas? Our office Corolla developed a brake shudder a few months ago, we had to get it fixed. Does that mean Toyota Corollas are fundamentally flawed? I point out over a million are sold every year…

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  3. mikenmild (10,766 comments) says:

    I wouldn’t rule out driver error just yet. That apparently was the cause of the previous, similar accident at Melling.

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  4. David Farrar (1,856 comments) says:

    Oh I’m not saying the system is broken.

    What is deplorable is the response of WRC and Kiwirail just making reassuring noises. A brake failure on a train is a huge effing issue. The difference between 2 minor injuries and 150 dead is almost luck.

    No one is saying all trains are unsafe. Of course not. but at a minimum Kiwirail should be testing and inspecting all trains of that manufacture and batch. They shouldn’t be underplaying how deadly this could have been.

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  5. Craig (21 comments) says:

    10 people on board… why does Len want to build trains when nobody uses them?

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  6. unaha-closp (1,117 comments) says:

    In Auckland the council is overriding the basic safety features on the new electric trains and doubling the speeds they enter stations. This is a bit concerning.

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  7. Rich Prick (1,557 comments) says:

    That is a lesson in how not to spin a story.

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  8. mikenmild (10,766 comments) says:

    Craig
    It was on the Melling line, which is chronically under used: no trains after about 6pm and none on the weekends. It’s a two-stop branch line off the main Hutt Valley line.

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  9. JC (909 comments) says:

    Given the tone of the message that train driver is going to be the fall guy regardless..

    JC

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  10. jp_1983 (189 comments) says:

    I put it to the readers,
    There is possibly a campaign of sabotage going on through Kiwi Rail.

    I find it absolutely unfathomable that four breaking systems failed, two weeks after the train was serviced.

    The driver clowned it and is now hiding behind the union and blaming the ‘brakes’ for his error.

    He got sunstike failed to react appropriately.
    But as the saying goes, the unions can do no wrong.

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  11. mikenmild (10,766 comments) says:

    These incidents are pretty thoroughly investigated. Kiwirail will investigate, along with the TAIC. It’s a pretty long process. The report on the previous Melling accident in May last year is not due until August this year.

    I wouldn’t call it sabotage, but driver error is clearly on the cards.

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  12. peterwn (3,168 comments) says:

    It seems that the issue has been identified but is not being disclosed at the moment. I think this approach is wrong. Seems sufficient is known to indicate it is not a fleet-wide problem. To ensure continuing public confidence, the nature of the problem should be disclosed asap.

    It does raise questions about basic design – train brake systems are supposed to be fail-safe. Even if the normal brake controls fail for whatever reason, the driver should be able to ‘pull the tap’ assuming that traditional ‘Westinghouse’ brakes are fitted.

    Some years ago there was a major power failure in London that took out a wide area and the Tube system. It was a human error fault in a substation owned by UK’s equivalent of Transpower (the human error occurred some weeks prior to the incident). There was an initial report on their web site within 48 hours which identified exactly what the issue was. Why not in this case?

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  13. Ed Snack (1,739 comments) says:

    Why in the hell does it take over a year for a report to be released on an incident such as this. Surely the cause is identifiable in a week or so at most, plus 2-3 weeks to write and consult, why months and months longer ? It seems to be that the only reason to take so long is to obfuscate and hide responsibility.

    And Peterwn has a point, because of the potential for serious consequences I thought trains did have a final emergency system, and drivers trained to use it. Maybe not on commuter trains ?

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  14. James Stephenson (2,040 comments) says:

    These incidents are pretty thoroughly investigated.

    Yeah? So where’s the “we’re taking all these trains offline to check their brakes” statement? If this had been a crash-landed aeroplane, all similar types would be grounded until that had happened.

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  15. mikenmild (10,766 comments) says:

    Taking all the trains out of service would be considered were there any reason to think that public safety was in any way being placed in jeopardy. The fact that they haven’t been shut down indicates to me that there is a high level of confidence that the cause of the accident is not related to any widespread fault.

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  16. Left Right and Centre (2,823 comments) says:

    Craig – context. Net effect.

    Context: Melling line. Branch line. Off peak. I think weekday only – no weekend service. Two stations mate. Two.

    Also – buses run from Wellington CBD to the heart of Lower Hutt CBD. It’s more convenient than the train – less transfers. None in fact. During off-peak buses have a huge advantage. On that branch line competition from buses cuts down passenger numbers (unlike say the Waikanae Line – which can offer one less transfer from suburb to CBD than bus services). But not during commuter chaos when SH2 to Petone is gridlocked.

    Sure – ten passengers on one branch line, on that one trip. What’s the net effect of the whole rail network ? (It might still be a bad idea – I’m just saying it’s ridiculous based on one two carriage off peak trip on a two station branch line).

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  17. m@tt (588 comments) says:

    “No one is saying all trains are unsafe. Of course not. but at a minimum Kiwirail should be testing and inspecting all trains of that manufacture and batch. They shouldn’t be underplaying how deadly this could have been.”

    Would you apply the same logic to Gerry Brownlee claiming on National Radio this morning and yesterday that there is no significant health issues from asbestos in Christchurch?

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  18. peterwn (3,168 comments) says:

    L-R-C
    At 8am there would be few outward passengers but there were many more waiting to board for the return trip.

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  19. kowtow (7,653 comments) says:

    Driver error,pilot error,operator error…….

    ……..maybe.

    But what about the lack of training that so many businesses engage in?

    Too easy to blame poor old Joe at the sharp end and ignore the faults that originate at board level. You know the guys who pay themselves tonnes and massive bonuses even when the enterprise is donkey deep in shit and waiting to be bailed out by,yep, Joe Taxpayer.

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  20. Captain Pugwash (93 comments) says:

    I occasionally use the train, quite handy after a few pints after work on a Friday. I don’t travel in the front two carriages in case of brake failure. Back in the day the railways had engineers, those guys knew their spanners from the crescents, anyway they checked the brakes, made sure they worked. Now they have “technicians” who have spots & BO, I don’t know what they do, but they obviously don’t make sure the brakes work.

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  21. Left Right and Centre (2,823 comments) says:

    peterwn – thanks. I made a faulty assumption that it was an off peak trip from the ten passengers aboard. Of course it could still be a peak time trip – duh !!

    (It still holds when going against the flow of traffic – I assert that buses are a more attractive option than trains – on either Hutt Valley Line or Melling Line. Waterloo is approx 2kms from Lower Hut CBD. Either walk or transfer to bus. Melling Station is close to Lower Hutt CBD – but from Wellington CBD a bus picks up along ‘Golden Shower Mile’ avoiding a transfer or walk at that end).

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  22. mikenmild (10,766 comments) says:

    Buses are a better option for me when going to and from Lower Hutt city centre. The downside is their route is a bit longer than the rail and may have many more stops. The upside is travelling further into the Wellington CBD without having to change transport modes.

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  23. Judith (7,686 comments) says:

    “The trains do not have a problem with their brakes,” council chairwoman Fran Wilde said, adding that the fleet was insured and still under warranty.

    Oh well that is reassuring. Good to know that the trains are insured. Too bad about the victims should a serious crash occur!

    And the brakes are just fine? Must have been one of those ‘hand of God’ incidents – mind you, do insurance companies pay out if that is the case?

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  24. questions (170 comments) says:

    “I’d say the brakes not working is a problem. And who cares about the warranty. I care about trains being able to stop.”

    Strange, a few years back all you cared about was paying the absolute lowest price possible during procurement, now you also want them to perform safely and reliably 100% of the time.

    Typical short shortsightedness around here, expecting you can pay for a Corolla and get a Continental GT.

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  25. Left Right and Centre (2,823 comments) says:

    An actual real life example – perfect –

    mikenmild – and the difference in cost of fares ? Longer route – sure – but you’d have to walk say Courtenay / Cuba area to Central Railway Station anyway. In terms of time – it’s not longer surely ? (also – I like ‘transfer’ because that covers everything neatly – bus to bus, bus to train).

    What about 7:30-8:30am timeframe Hutt to Wellington ?

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  26. Captain Pugwash (93 comments) says:

    “Craig (21 comments) says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 9:10 am
    10 people on board… why does Len want to build trains when nobody uses them? ”

    Craig, mate, as far as I know this incident happened in Lower Hutt… not Auckland. The Len I believe you are referring to is the Mayor of Auckland City, not New Zealand.

    The Melling line is a small off branch from the main Hutt Vally line. The Melling station is at the end of the line. In the morning the trains collect people from the Melling station and take them into wellington and vice versa in the evening. I caught that train at about 7:15am and there can be about 100 people waiting for the train.

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  27. Left Right and Centre (2,823 comments) says:

    Ed Snack – cuzzie – when your driver jumps out the cab – is it safe to assume that every option is fucked including the so-called emergency brakes ?

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  28. WineOh (556 comments) says:

    Investigations of these sorts will boil down potential causes into three categories:
    1. Physical factors (eg- failure of the brakes, maintenance)
    2. Environmental factors (eg- did rain or ice contribute to the incident)
    3. Human factors (eg- did the driver fail to operate the vehicle correctly).

    The strong implication from the internal report according to National Radio was that “human factors” were largely to blame for the prior accident, subject to a separate external review. There was no subsequent investigation of other trains in the fleet nor change in maintenance programs. It does seem very odd for there to be two similar accidents on the same line at the same station barely a year apart from each other.

    The spokesperson from Kiwirail was talking up the great deeds by the driver and the incident management in reducing harm to people – specifically warning people to brace and preventing people from leaving immediately afterwards risking electrocution.

    Cue another long-winded investigation and business as usual.

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  29. Left Right and Centre (2,823 comments) says:

    questions – hahahaha – they paid for a Hyundai – not a Toyota. (I owned an 87 Hyundai Excel – biodegradable apparently).

    Train equivalent of Continental GT, what would that be ? Going to work on the Orient Express ? Maglev – Upper Hutt to town in fifteen minutes at 430km/h top speed – hahaha. Anyone got a few spare tens of billions of dollars ?

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  30. berend (1,634 comments) says:

    Anyone remembers how the Obama administration, as the owners of GM (aka Government Motors), forced a competitor to recall vehicles due to spurious complaints about brakes not working?

    I’m sure the council would have far harsher comments if it didn’t run the train.

    Argument 101 that the government should not supply transport services, because who is going to watch the watcher?

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  31. Left Right and Centre (2,823 comments) says:

    ‘Made with pride at Hillside NZ’ = no bad headlines ?

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  32. mikenmild (10,766 comments) says:

    The council owns the trains, but does not operate them. That contract is going out for tender, with reports that the large French corporation Transdev is interested.

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  33. Left Right and Centre (2,823 comments) says:

    I’d say the brakes not working is a problem. And who cares about the warranty. I care about trains being able to stop.

    Just wait until the day after the warranty expires – then you’ll see brakes not working left, right and centre

    (Thanks – I’m here all week . . . )

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  34. RRM (9,478 comments) says:

    ‘Made with pride at Hillside NZ’ = no bad headlines ?

    Ka 942 and Ka 945 were built at the Hillside workshop. 945 is in pieces in Steam Incorporated’s shed awaiting fundraising for an overhaul, but IIRC 942 is in running order.

    That much power would be a bit overkill for taking 2 carriages to Melling though, and the lack of turning facilities or even a passing loop at Melling would make the return trip a bit difficult.

    But it would be magnificent :-D

    And the great plume of oil smoke might make the Greenies critically reassess their ideas about rail:

    http://www.photopnz.com/media/5395/ka%20%20942%20at%20the%20crossing%202.jpg

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  35. G152 (158 comments) says:

    Steam had the reversing lever and lots of sand for such ‘brake failures’

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  36. peterwn (3,168 comments) says:

    RPM – a steam train was run up and down the Melling line some years ago – a few people complained about their washing getting smutty. In UK some branch line steam trains were run backwards – with controls mechanically linked from a driving cab to the loco – similar to operation of the Auckland area carriage trains – the DC diesel locos are remotely controlled from a cab at the other end of the train.

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  37. gravedodger (1,517 comments) says:

    @ Colville 9 06, that is quite a mouthful!

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  38. NoCash (255 comments) says:

    Left Right and Centre (2,656 comments) says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 10:27 am
    Ed Snack – cuzzie – when your driver jumps out the cab – is it safe to assume that every option is fucked including the so-called emergency brakes ?

    Or the driver simply braked too late… and could have yelled out “fuck… I braked too late… brace yourself!”.

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  39. Lance (2,461 comments) says:

    The brakes didn’t work…. yeah right. Major BS alert and deep skepticism. They have redundant and multiple backups.

    But agreed the comments by Fran Wilde should have been more guarded, like we are investigating this will full resources blaa blaa.

    Modern train ‘braking’ failures have been instances like an air pressurization failure was overridden in an unauthorized manner resulting in ‘less braking ability’ and driver misjudging the stopping distance. Or overloaded trains being unable to brake enough going down hill etc.

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  40. Lance (2,461 comments) says:

    @mikenmild

    Transdev run the Auckland commuter trains

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  41. labrator (1,750 comments) says:

    Read between the lines. I think if there was any concern it was actually brake failure they would’ve shut the fleet down just like you wanted. You’ve taken a journalists quote and extrapolated out. Talk to a train driver. It was a slippery day on the tracks, it happens. Cold hard steel on cold hard steel not rubber on high drainage tarmac.

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  42. Ed Snack (1,739 comments) says:

    LRC, yes, unless we have a totally untrained (pun NOT intended) driver I too would take it that when the driver bursts from his cab shouting “Brace Yourself, the brakes have failed !” that any emergency system is also kaput.

    What I meant was that such emergencies are *supposed* to be “fail-safe” and operated as near to completely separately as possible to remove as far as possible the chance of a single failed item disabling both braking systems. Thus IF there IS an emergency system and it did not work either, then what’s the cause ? Is it ratshit maintenance that BOTH were allowed to become faulty; a design flaw that allows a single failure to cripple the brakes; sabotage (as conspiracy laden as that appears, it is a possibility); poor training and/or driver error.

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  43. RRM (9,478 comments) says:

    I don’t know if this is also the case for the electric multiple units – but as I understand it, on real trains the brakes on all the carriages are normally fully ON, unless they are supplied with air pressure from a pump from the locomotive to release the brakes.

    (In other words, the opposite of what a car has, where the brakes are normally off until you apply hydraulic pressure via the pedal to activate the brakes.)

    So a failure of the braking system is more likely to mean the train grinds to a halt, rather than keeps on rolling…?

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  44. ross411 (220 comments) says:

    I’ve seen one train in the past month, it had an empty section attached, and two sections with freight containers on them. Our dollars are being well spent.

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  45. Lucia Maria (2,208 comments) says:

    The media is far too tame here in New Zealand. This train failure added to the train failure last year would have resulted in the population and the media baying for blood in countries overseas; while as here, all they have to say is that they are doing an investigation and everyone goes, well that’s alright then.

    There was an editorial in today’s Dominion Post, but where was the front page headline that KiwiRail refused to reveal details of their own investigation? Why don’t reporters try to get more out of the general manager of KiwiRail, Deborah Hume? How about interview with the driver?

    Good on David for highlighting this latest debacle – it could have been catastrophic as opposed to just embarrassing.

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  46. Johnboy (15,008 comments) says:

    ” I don’t travel in the front two carriages in case of brake failure. ”

    Pugwash old chap, you’d look fucking silly hanging on to the back of the two car Melling train as it rammed the buffers and your black pirate hat got squished along with your brain….What?….that’s already happened! :)

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  47. mikenmild (10,766 comments) says:

    Actually Johnboy, the Melling trains can be up to 6 units during the rush hour. I sat right up the front tonight, though.

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