Entity going off the rails
INCREASING concerns over the safety of an estimated 2.4 million South Africans who rely on trains to reach their destinations every day are growing. It is even more worrying that the majority of the passengers are fathers and mothers travelling to work in factories, retail and other menial jobs that pay very little.
Besides earning slave wages, they now have to face this ever-present threat to their lives as they struggle to make an honest living to provide for their families.
This vulnerable group should not have to deal with the reality that train accidents have become a common tragedy on the country’s railway lines in the last few years. The past seven days have brought to the fore the magnitude of the problems of this previously safe mode of transport and the scary pace it is joining its road carnage counterparts in becoming a death trap.
Last Thursday, a deadly collision involving a train and truck at a level crossing near Kroonstad in the Free State claimed 19 lives and left about 260 people injured.
The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) has readily acknowledged that most of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition, and fears that some families might claim an incorrect corpse of their loved one.
It becomes a sad case of piling more misery onto those already grieving when they can’t identify relatives, which could at the very least have given them some closure.
As the identification process was in progress and the country in deep mourning, another train crash occurred in Germiston on Tuesday, leaving at least 200 people injured. Although official Prasa figures put the injured at 226 – 159 minor and 67 moderate – commuters who were examined at Bertha Gxowa Hospital said they believed the number was much higher.
Surely somebody must be held accountable for the latest crash, after it emerged that a manager signed off on a reckless decision to allow the trains to be manually operated after the signal cables were reportedly stolen? Innocent passengers became the collateral damage when the two trains collided at the Geldenhuys station as a result.
We fully back the United National Transport Union’s call for the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) and Prasa to be charged with attempted murder, and even hold the Geldenhuys station manager personally liable. A strong message needs to be sent that the government will not allow the carnage on roads to spill over onto the rail tracks. A criminal attorney is on record as saying there is a prima facie case against the RSR and Prasa. He further contends that the legal test of dolus eventualis must be applied because, by allowing the trains to be manually operated, the RSR and Prasa objectively foresaw the possibility that their acts might cause deaths.
It is even more shocking that the accident comes just six weeks after the RSR announced on November 21 that the number of deaths caused by railway operational occurrences shot up 8% to 495 fatalities in 2016/17 compared with the same period in the previous year. The RSR report said close to 60% of all occurrences investigated were due to a human factor, which underlines our assertion that negligence has been allowed to flourish in parts of rail operations.
Besides the irreplaceable loss of human life, the train accidents are eating away at the economy in terms of claims and compensation for losses. DSC Attorneys, who specialise in personal injury law, estimate that train incidents, including collisions, derailments, platform change and commuter accidents, cost South Africa over R400 million a year – money that could be put to better use.
It is incumbent on Prasa and the RSR to curb the accidents and restore the sense of safe travel on trains. Anything less should be treated as criminal.