Rail system upgrade vital for safety
WITH two train crashes in recent days, we should all be concerned about the safety of those who rely on rail transport for their daily commute and long-distance journeys. Last week a Shosholoza Meyl train travelling between Port Elizabeth and Joburg was involved in a collision with a truck at a level crossing near Kroonstad in the Free State. Nineteen passengers, including children, burnt to death – some beyond recognition. With a further 15 passengers unaccounted for, the death toll in this tragedy could be higher.
Investigations continue, but at this stage the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) and Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) have placed blame on the truck driver, as they believe that railway safety regulations were met at the crossing. This despite eyewitnesses claiming that trucks often fail to stop at the crossing.
Prasa has placed the blame squarely on the truck driver. Accounts suggest the truck did not stop and the train could not stop in time to avoid the collision.
Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi has directed the RSR to establish a board of inquiry to establish the cause of a fire that broke out after the collision.
Meanwhile, human error has been blamed for this week’s crash in which more than 200 passengers were hurt when a metro train rearended a stationary locomotive at the Geldenhuis station, Germiston.
Metrorail said the station manager authorised the use of manual signals because of cable theft.
Prasa has now issued a national ban on manual authorisation of trains.
The United National Transport Union believes the station manager was negligent and should be held personally liable for the accident while Prasa and the RSR should be charged with attempted murder.
Is this extreme? Consider that in November the RSR said there had been 495 rail fatalities in 2016/17, with close to 60% of incidents investigated being found to be due to human factors.
Rail transport is a vital part of the country’s transport system. What we need now is for the rail authorities to effect the improvements required to ensure the safety of commuters on both metro and long-distance trains.