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December 26, 2003

Coroner calls for change

From:, New Zealand - Dec 26, 2003


A coroner is urging passenger transport operators to improve their services for the disabled after the death of a deaf American tourist in a train accident at Kaikoura.

Rangiora Coroner David Crerar's written findings into the death of 68-year-old William Robert Miller found he died as a result of blood loss leading to hypovolaemic shock from trauma following a fall under a train operated by Tranz Scenic.

Miller, a retired military serviceman from Mount Gilead, Ohio, was killed after he slipped and fell while trying to board the Christchurch to Picton train leaving the Kaikoura railway station on March 28 this year.

Passengers had been told not to get off the train when it pulled into the station because it was only a short stop.

However, Miller, who had a hearing impairment, left the train to buy refreshments.

He returned to the platform to find the train pulling away.

He attempted to get aboard but lost his footing and was dragged several metres before falling under the train.

Crerar said Miller's death identified a need for transport providers and other organisations offering a service to the public to take more notice of their duties to people who suffered from a hearing impairment or other disabilities.

"At the very least, (they should) ensure safety and other important information is passed on in visual form as well as by the public address system," his findings said.

Crerar said brochures should be provided to all passengers highlighting all safety information, "including the potential hazard of disembarking at the Kaikoura railway station and entering the station building".

"Signage to this effect may also be considered appropriate."

Crerar said people with a disability also needed to be "proactive in protecting themselves".

"A passenger who is hard of hearing could approach train staff, identify their deafness and request more appropriate and specific briefings," he said.

Hearing Association public affairs manager Chris Peters said there was "no question" that New Zealand's public transport system was not geared towards people with a hearing impairment.

"If I rolled up to a train service in a wheelchair or if I walked up with a white cane those providing the service would make allowances for my disability without being asked," he said. "The same must apply to those with a hearing disability... This means providing general information in written form such as display screens and by identifying passengers with a hearing disability and catering for their needs."

Peters said people should be asked to identify whether they had a disability on booking forms.

"William Miller died because he was not aware of important safety information," he said. If Tranz Scenic had known he had a hearing loss, guards on the train might have sought him out and told him not to leave the train at Kaikoura.

Tranz Scenic South Island operations manager Tony McManus would not comment on Crerar's report. Tranz Scenic director Don Gibson could not be contacted.

© Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2003.