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Auckland train driver ‘haunted’ by memories of people killed in on-track collisions

A train driver who witnessed deaths from collisions with his locomotive has described how is ‘haunted’ by recurring memories that forced him to step down from the job with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Auckland train driver Kevin Komiti was in the midst of a ten-year career when he witnessed a double fatality in front of his train.

He knows the fatal collision was not his fault, but cannot feel some lingering sense of contribution because he was in charge of the train.

It was an experience shared by many drivers who have been involved in fatal collisions, with traumatic memories emerging out of the blue. 

‘You’d be doing something and suddenly you just go blank and drop everything, no energy to do it whatsoever and all you can think about is what you’ve done,’ he told Newshub.

‘It’s like we’re in prison in our head, we can’t get out of it, we can’t help it either.

‘I’ve done counselling, I’m on medication, it just numbs my feelings. When I’m back to normal I still get those feelings.

‘It’s like torture, it’s like you’re being haunted by the people you killed. It’s like they’re punishing you for what you’ve done.’

Nearly every day in New Zealand someone has a near-miss with a train. 

Greg Miller, KiwiRail Group chief executive, said the decision to walk or drive in front of a train can have long-term effects.

‘A freight train weighing 1,000 tonnes across 30 wagons can take a kilometre to come to a stop once the brakes are applied. It also takes time for the commuter trains in Auckland and Wellington to stop,’ Mr Miller said.

‘Quite often our locomotive engineers know how it’s going to turn out. They sound the horn, hit the emergency brakes and, often, hit the floor and get behind a safety block.

‘They are hoping that against all the odds the person or vehicle will get out of the way in time, and that this won’t become one of the worst days of their lives.’

He said there has been a drop in near misses this year compared to last year but he contributed that due to less people being out and about due to COVID-19 lockdown measures. 

Megan Drayton, TrackSAFE NZ foundation manager, said in the last 12 months there had been 300 near misses – 191 of which were at public crossings with flashing lights and bells.

‘This shows us that even with warning signs and protections in place, some motorists and pedestrians are still either being complacent, or taking unnecessary risks,’ she said.

She pleaded with people to take more care as Rail Safety Week commenced across the country.  

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