Train driver passed danger signal before Joburg crash

By Drum Digital
29 April 2015

Pretoria - The driver of a train that crashed into a stationary train in Denver, Johannesburg, leaving one person dead, passed a red warning signal, Prasa rail CEO Mosenngwa Mofi said on Wednesday.

"The signalling system is an automatic system.  When a train occupies the track, the signals will protect it from behind with red lights. Another train cannot come into that section," he told reporters in Pretoria. "I can confirm that 12 trains from 04:00 passed that area before the incident. [When the Metro Plus train arrived at the station] the driver indicated he was not sure if the signal as working. He was speaking to train traffic control about it and in that time the crash happened."

The driver of the Business Express was identified as Mercia Sambo, while the metro guard who died in the stationary Metro Plus train on Tuesday was Tiisetso Napo.

He said the Business Express, that crashed into the other train, passed a signal at danger, which meant it crossed a red warning light. According to a micro-processor on the train, which functioned like an aircraft’s black box, the Business Express was travelling at 105km/h an hour, one minute and 15 seconds before the incident.

The speed limit for that section was 90km/h.

Fifteen seconds before impact, the train was travelling at 91 km/h and the eventual impact speed was 61 km/h.

Mofi said however that blame could not be placed on Sambo since the investigation was continuing.

"We must interview the drivers. We must look at whether the trains were in a good condition," he said. Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) group CEO Lucky Montana said what the Metro Plus driver did was correct. "It was not clear whether the system was malfunctioning, that is why he called train control. "However we don't want to pre-empt the findings," Montana said, adding that facts of the incident were from Prasa's preliminary technical report. The exact cause of the accident was still being investigated. "We are not saying that that [Sambo passing the signal, or speeding] is the root cause of the crash.

"We don't want to pre-empt the Rail Safety Regulator's independent investigation," he said.

"The driver [Sambo] had a splendid record [before the crash]."

Montana said passing a signal at danger was a dismissable offence for drivers. He said disciplinary procedures often had to happen, but he would have preferred to "fire them on the spot".

Montana spent the first part of the briefing running through Prasa's safety records and assuring South Africans that its trains were safe.

He put the figure of the number of injured at 243, while only 187 were taken to hospital. Only five still remained in hospital by Wednesday.

"We are lucky... the numbers could have been much different."

He said drivers were trained over an 18 month period, and that certain safety conditions had to be met in order to receive a license from the Rail Safety Regulator.

"When we have an accident like this, we lose focus. We focus on the accident like it is an everyday occurrence.

"We run a very safe system... we follow procedures.

"I want to take this opportunity to assure South Africans that we are doing everything... to ensure that they have decent, quality public transport."

He said newer trains were going to be introduced soon and the signalling system would be upgraded.

"The incident confirmed the need for modernisation. When we deal with modern trains, the situation will be different

The replacement process is very important. It will eliminate some of the human factors of on-board signalling.

Montana said R25m was set aside from an insurance fund to compensate those injured in the crash. Their medical bills would also be taken care of by Prasa.

Source: News24

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