Rail sys­tem up­grade vi­tal for safety

Pretoria News - - OPINION -

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.

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