Three killed as train derails

2010-04-22 00:00

PRETORIA — Three people, one of them a pregnant woman, were killed when a luxury train carrying 55 foreign tourists ran about 10 km with no locomotive and derailed in Pretoria yesterday.

Another 25 people were seriously injured after the train, belonging to Rovos Rail, derailed about 300 metres from the Pretoria station.

The stomach of an employee of Rovos Rail, who was reportedly just over four months pregnant, was ripped open by the impact of the accident. She died at the scene.

Another employee died shortly after one of the carriages was lifted off him. Details of how the other person, also an employee, died were not available last night.

Ruhan Vos, the owner of Rovos Rail, said the train was on its way to Pretoria from Cape Town. It stopped in Centurion, where tourists had a chance to look at the steam locomotive that was to take them to Pretoria’s Capital Park station.

As the tourists got back on the train, workers uncoupled the electric locomotive and were busy replacing it with the steam locomotive when the carriages started rolling backward, said Vos.

No one was able to stop the 19 carriages. “Three of the carriages’ handbrakes were pulled up, but that wasn’t enough,” Vos said.

Sixteen of the carriages crashed into each other and the others were overturned when it derailed.

Sarel Coetzee, a senior planner at the Pretoria station, and his colleague, Gert Span, were the first people at the scene.

“It was just after 11 am when we heard a loud crash,” said Coetzee. “We started running in the direction of the crash, and when we got there, there were people everywhere screaming for help.

“They were crying. It was chaos. I’ve never seen anything like it.

“People tried to climb out, but they couldn’t. Gert and I started breaking the carriage windows and helped people get out.

“There were one or two people in some of the carriages. Two people were trapped under a carriage and we tried to help one of them, but couldn’t. When the emergency services arrived and lifted the carriage, the man died right there.”

Span told of how a man’s back was broken. “It was the first guy we helped … It was gruesome.”

Werner Vermaak, spokesperson for ER24, said: “Some of the passengers were thrown from the carriages and others were trapped inside. Most of the injured people sustained multiple fractures.”

Altogether 25 tourists and some of the train’s personnel were admitted in serious condition to various hospitals in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

The remaining 68 people who were in the train were taken to the Blue Train lounge at Pretoria station, and were taken away by bus.

Vos said there were 44 Americans, four South Africans, three Germans, four Britons and four French citizens on the train, as well as 30 staff.

“I was sitting in the dining car when the train started moving again,” 41-year-old Gina Ruiz, from New York, said yesterday. “This was while the train personnel were replacing the electric locomotive. We were going to travel with the steam train from there.

“Suddenly the train started moving very fast. I even commented on how fast it was.

“The next moment, I saw the carriages ahead of me start derailing one by one. I watched it moving closer and closer to me, until it came to my carriage.”

Ruiz’s parents, Gerald and Maria Ruiz, and her sister, Madison Tar, were seriously injured in the accident.

“They were taken to a hospital. I don’t even know which hospital. They have serious injuries.”

Ruiz said this is her first visit to South Africa. She is part of a tour group of 30 Americans.

“We’ve been in the country for a week and we had planned to spend another week here,” she said, before being led away by an emergency services worker.

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