Residents flee as train derails

2009-06-06 00:00

A TIMBER train derailed on the edge of a housing settlement near Regina Road in Northdale yesterday morning, trapping crew members in the wreckage, but causing no other injuries.

Two diesel locomotives crashed and five wagons went down the embankment, spilling their load of timber.

The logs rolling down from the wagons landed on a toilet at one of the houses in the informal settlement. The occupants had a narrow escape and had to seek shelter with relatives after the accident.

Train crew members were severely injured and it took emergency rescue experts an hour and a half to extricate one of the driver’s assistants from the wrecked locomotive. He was then airlifted to hospital.

Transnet Freight Rail spokesman Mike Asefovitz said the two diesel locomotives were pulling eight wagons fully laden with timber from Greytown to Pietermaritzburg. He said the accident happened near the Cityview station.

Witnesses told Weekend Witness that the train was travelling at a high speed.

A resident in Regina Road informal settlement, Thandazile Memela, said she saw the train coming and could tell it would derail.

“I heard unusual noises when it approached the bend and when I saw the speed it was travelling at, I could see it would not turn the corner.”

Memela watched as the first locomotive derail and land on its side.

“Immediately I phoned the police and reported the accident and I ran towards the scene.”

Asefovitz said the cause of the accident is unknown.

“We can not pre-empt the findings. Investigations are still underway to establish the cause of the accident.”

“WE jumped into action and tried to make way for the people who were trapped inside,” said Delani Hadebe, who was first on the scene of the accident and helped the driver and his assistant out of the wreckage.

Sifiso Mbonani, Lucky Sokhela, Skhumbuzo Mbonambi and Hadebe kicked out the emergency window to get the two men out. But one of the crew members was trapped and frantic efforts were made to rescue him.

“We were doing everything we could to rescue the man inside because we could see he was injured, his head was bleeding.

“With our own bare hands we ripped open part of the train, to make way for the injured man. But the police arrived at that moment and chased us away, they even arrested Mbonambi … for trying to help and save a man’s life,” said Hadebe.

Weekend Witness saw Mbonambi in handcuffs being taken away from the scene in a police vehicle. However, police spokesman Senior Superintendent Henry Budhram said no one was arrested.

Residents gathered around the scene while police sealed the area with emergency tape.

People living alongside the track said they heard a loud bang. Adeshni Rupnarin, who lives in Regina Road, said she is scared after the accident.

“I have lived here for the past 21 years of my life, but I have always thought we are safe.”

Her next door neighbour, Trusha Govender, said trains pass by her house more than five times a day. “My house is a few inches from the train track and this derailment was just metres away from my house.

“I heard a loud noise with a squeaky sound and I thought about the babies.”

Both Govender and Rupnarin have babies, 10 months and one year old respectively.

Several train incidents have occurred in and around Pietermaritzburg and people were killed in some instances.

• In February this year, two trains collided near the Boughton station. It was reported that three carriages had derailed from one of the trains and hit the other train.

• In January this year a man was killed by a train near Lions River in Howick.

• In the same month, a 17-year-old girl was crushed by a train that hit a bakkie at a level crossing in Edendale. The girl, who was travelling in a bakkie with a 26-year-old man, died on the scene while the driver of the bakkie was severely injured when a fully laden goods train hit the vehicle, pushing it off the railway tracks.

• Two other people were run over by trains in separate incidents in January 2009 and December 2008.

• In June 2008 a 44-wagon train derailed and spilled its cargo of manganese ore in the Boughton area. The train driver died on the scene while his conductor escaped.

• In the same area a major derailment happened in January 2004.

• In September 2007, a goods train derailed near Mariannhill, disrupting both freight and passenger services. The train was carrying steel rods from Johannesburg when it derailed in kwaNdengezi and blocked both lines between Durban and Johannesburg.

— WR.

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