Train crash driver could have been negligent - parliamentary committee

Johannesburg - The train crash that left one person dead and over 200 injured in Denver, Johannesburg, could have been a result of negligence, the Portfolio Committee on Transport said on Wednesday.

"The preliminary investigations points to recklessness on the part of the driver," committee chairperson Dikeledi Magadzi said in a statement. 

"That necessitates continuous testing for train drivers and that they need to be made aware of the responsibility they carry on their shoulders when they transport people,” she said.

One person, a Metrorail official, was killed when one train crashed into their stationary train at the station on Tuesday morning. 

The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) on Wednesday said the driver of the train had passed a red warning sign.

"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," said Prasa rail CEO Mosenngwa Mofi.

"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 was 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.

Mofi 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.

Ongoing investigation

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.

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.

Meanwhile, Magadzi highlighted the importance of ensuring that trains were always in good working condition.

"Trains remain the most affordable form of transport to many and that necessitates that infrastructure be revamped and that adequate maintenance be regularly carried out on passenger trains.

"Signalling equipment and the actual rail tracks should at all times be compliant with international minimum standards,” she said.

She conveyed condolences to the Napo family and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.

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