Walnut Avenue lights improve safety for all

Published: 21 November 2022

Ashburton Intermediate School pupils check out the operation of the new safe KiwiRail crossing point on Walnut Avenue (from left) Callum Tait, Ofa Pongia, Zara McGillen, Georgia Scammell and Madeleine Howden.

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Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown says the new traffic lights at Walnut Avenue will make a big difference to the community and be safer for school kids crossing the railway tracks and State Highway 1.

Waka Kotahi switched the lights on last Friday, after a 16-month construction period.

“It was a long time coming and I thank the community for their patience,” the mayor said. “It was complex job involving two roundabouts and a railway crossing but it will make a huge difference to the community and improve road safety for everyone using Walnut Avenue.”

The project was the first Canterbury project in the Government’s New Zealand Upgrade Programme to be completed; the $8.7 billion programme aims to provide growing communities with better transport choices and help people get where they are going safely.

Mayor Brown said he hoped lessons learned at the Walnut Avenue site would ensure the smooth running of another upgrade project at Tinwald, where traffic lights are planned for the corner of State Highway 1, Agnes Street and Lagmhor Road.

“We look forward to that project improving safety in the Tinwald corridor and the upgraded traffic light crossing there should create more openings for motorists to get onto the highway from side streets more safely.”

Mark Heissenbuttel, General Manager South Island Operations for KiwiRail, said the new Walnut Avenue rail crossing was the most modern in the country and highly complex.

It is part of a big changes for rail in Ashburton, with a new rail siding soon to be built at Fairton, at the old Fairton meat works now owned by Talley’s. Containers will be loaded onto trains there, instead of at the current shunting yard off West Street.

Mr Heissenbuttel said that when the new Fairton siding was operational, trains would pass through Ashburton at a higher speed.

KiwiRail and council will be running a track safety campaign next year to ensure everyone is aware of changes in the new rail corridor.

He encouraged all pedestrians using the new Walnut Avenue rail crossing to use the maze and the electronic gates to cross the main trunk line safely. “The tracks are for trains,” he reiterated.

James Caygill, Director Regional Relationships for Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, joined mana whenua and representatives of KiwiRail, contracting company Fulton Hogan and Ashburton District Council to celebrate the project’s completion on Friday. Pupils from Ashburton Intermediate attended to test out the new safe crossing points over the rail tracks.

Mr Caygill said that along with improving safety, reducing delays and making it easier for larger vehicles and trucks to travel through the intersections, the improvements would also make it safer for pupils getting to and from school on foot and wheels.

“Previously the intersections felt dangerous for school students crossing the road. Now we hope more students will choose to walk, scoot or bike to school, knowing they can do so more safely.”

While the majority of the work is complete after just over a year of work, contractors will continue completing some minor landscaping and finishing work over the next few days.

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