Blow to the left, blow to the right for safe travels


Superstitions often contain a kernel of truth or common sense. Walking under ladders carries a definite risk of something falling on you, for example. Remembering to ‘blow to the left, blow to the right for safe travels’ is a brilliant way of encouraging people to safely cross a railway line.

A woman looking both ways, with the text: Blow to the left and right at tracks for safe travels. A superstition we're on board with.

Whether it’s reciting a superstition or a rhyme, or using the latest developments in technology, we are making a change in the way people think about safety around trains and railway tracks.

Like all parents, I feel the weight of responsibility for keeping my kids safe. And it is through educating and preparing our young people that we can hope to make a change in our attitudes towards safety around rail lines.

This is not some abstract possibility – people are being hurt or killed on our rail lines far too often, and something must change.

Since 2012, 155 people have been hit and killed by trains in New Zealand, with a further 91 left seriously injured. In the last year alone, there have been 52 collisions, and eight people have been killed due to rail related incidents. Each of those numbers is a tragedy, but the numbers could have been far worse – there were 261 near misses over that same period.

Rail safety statistics

I am greatly encouraged by the work that is being done by TrackSAFE NZ, KiwiRail and the team at Waka Kotahi to educate and inform our rangatahi through innovations such as the Rail Safety Virtual Field Trip. This is an interactive resource for intermediate and secondary school students, which helps teach young people how to stay safe around tracks and trains, and shows how technology is being used to keep rail workers safe.

These students are digital natives, so using language they understand and technology they can relate to keeps it approachable. But the efforts are being shared far more widely than that.

I am amazed at how digital solutions are also being used to give rail workers the experience of high-consequence scenarios without real-life risk.

Our rail workers now have access to digital innovations like Virtual Reality, gamification and digital shields to acquire new skills and keep themselves safe while on the job.

Ensuring safety is a crucial part of the revitalisation of rail in New Zealand. There are many organisations working to ensure the system and everything within it are engineered, regulated and organised for the best safety outcomes.

Equally, each of us has a personal responsibility for keeping ourselves and others safe. Psychologists even say that a little bit of superstition can be good for us – encouraging precautionary checking, which in turn reduces errors and mistakes.

Reducing – or even eliminating - errors and mistakes is what this week is all about.  I hope everyone takes on board the ‘blow left, blow right’ message for Rail Safety Week and every other week of the year.

Through these ongoing efforts and education, and through people being more aware of the danger around rail lines, we can make a difference and keep everyone safe, with no need to knock on wood for luck.