A woman cyclist killed after being struck by a train is believed to have been distracted listening to an iPod-style music player, prompting warnings about the dangers of the devices.

The 55-year-old, from Tauranga, was crossing a rail intersection with her bicycle on Matapihi Road, Mount Maunganui, at 2.30pm yesterday when the goods train, pulling six carriages, hit her.

The train driver braked immediately, but she was carried 40m down the tracks.  The woman – who has yet to be formally identified – died instantly. Tauranga Senior Sergeant Tania Kura said it appeared the woman was distracted and did not see the north-bound train.

“It’s hard to see how it happened. The warnings are well signposted here, and the barrier arm was down.”  The woman had stepped around a pedestrian fence while the rail barriers were down.  A witness said it appeared she was listening to an iPod or other listening device as she cycled toward the train tracks.

Cycle Action spokeswoman Barbara Cuthbert said that because cyclists were much more vulnerable than people in cars, they needed to use all their senses.  “If you’ve chosen to close your ears off, you’re totally dependent on what you can see.  “If you’re a deaf cyclist you’re isolated from the noise environment, which is your trigger for safety. You would not miss a train if your ears were not blocked.”

A British coroner recently expressed concern about “zombie cyclists”, who were less aware of their surroundings because they were listening to MP3 players.  His comments followed a upsurge in cycle-related deaths and injuries on crowded British streets.  Yesterday’s collision occurred a short distance from the site of a similar rail accident.  In June, 85-year-old John Litchfield was hit and killed by a train as he took a shortcut to the Omanu Golf Club.

He was believed not to have heard the slow-moving engine because of strong winds and traffic noise.

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