Regulator on cause of Rovos train disaster

2010-04-23 18:12

The handbrakes of the luxury train that derailed in Pretoria on Wednesday were not on, the Railway Safety Regulator has found.

Neither were the scotches wedged under the wheels of the train, as required, said acting CEO of the regulator Carvel Webb.

“In terms of regulations, Transnet was supposed to have done it,” said Webb, explaining that it was Transnet Freight Rail’s electric locomotive that had brought the train from Cape Town to Pretoria.

“If I leave a load, I must make sure the brakes are on. So now, we are asking the question: why didn’t it happen?”

After bringing the coaches to Centurion, the electric locomotive was uncoupled and left the area while Rovos Rail’s steam locomotive waited to be coupled on to the coaches for the last grand run into Pretoria’s Capital Park station.

Instead, the coaches rolled downhill towards Pretoria, picked up speed and eventually derailed. Two women, one of whom was pregnant, were killed in the accident. A third woman later died in hospital. All three were employees of Rovos Rail.

Webb said the investigation found that the Transnet locomotive driver had applied the train’s vacuum brakes before leaving. However, in terms of regulations, handbrakes on at least six of the coaches were also supposed to have been applied.

“You need to apply those brakes on five or six carriages so that the train remains locked,” he said.

Then, scotches must be wedged under the wheels of a train staged on a gradient.

“You mustn’t release the brakes of the train until you have got the locomotive coupled on it again.”

He said Rovos Rail admitted that they ran alongside the train trying to put the brakes on, but were not successful.

The vacuum brakes alone are deemed not to be sufficient because of the unpredictability of how long they last.

“They could last for hours, they could last for days,” said Webb. “You never rely on vacuum.”

He said it was true that there were problems with a delay on the signals, and that the brakes were under pressure.

“That is correct, but Rovos and Transnet should have applied handbrakes and put wedges under the wheels.”

As a result of these findings, the regulator issued an “improvement directive” to Rovos Rail and Transnet Freight Rail.  

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