'Max protection' at rail crossing

2010-08-25 14:15

Cape Town – The Railway Safety Regulator says there is not much authorities can do to prevent incidents such as Wednesday morning's horrific accident in which nine school children died when a mini bus they were travelling in was hit by a train. 

"It's like someone crossing a red robot," the regulator's Carvel Webb told News24. "It's a road compliance issue," he said.

Asked if the half booms could be extended across both lanes to prevent drivers from swerving past the half booms, Webb said these were safer than full booms.

A half boom only extends across the lane a vehicle is travelling in on one side of the train tracks leaving the crossing open on the other side of the tracks. 

Carvel said full booms were not preferred in South Africa because two full booms on opposite sides of the tracks had the potential to close in vehicles should the booms come down just after a vehicle goes past the first.

"We would not like to see people trapped in between the tracks," he said. 
Culpable homicide

In a statement earlier on Wednesday the regulator said the road signs, flashing lights and booms protecting the Buttskop crossing in Blackheath, just outside of Cape Town, were in working order and were the "maximum level of protection which can be afforded to a level crossing".

It also said an investigation it is conducting into the incident would look at how the accident could have occurred, despite these measures.

Police spokesperson Billy Jones told News24 earlier that preliminary investigations indicated that the driver of the mini bus, who has been hospitalised, may have tried to beat the boom and that a case of culpable homicide was being investigated.

Meanwhile, Western Cape Education MEC Donald Grant and Health MEC Theunis Botha were expected to visit the five children, who were all in a serious condition in hospital.

Eight children were declared dead on the scene. Another body was later discovered under the bodies of the other dead children, bringing the death toll to nine. Earlier reports had said the ninth child had died on the way to hospital.

News24 user Donovan Edmunds, who uses the road regularly, said impatience by drivers was a regular sight at the Buttskop level crossing which he said was prone to morning and afternoon traffic.

"The problem is the drivers. They refuse to be patient and wait like us," he told News24.

He said taxi come from behind the queue, riding on the wrong side of the road while passing the traffic and then cross the train tracks.

"My heart goes out to the families. All they did was to send their kids to school.

"The main culprits are the minibus taxis. I know we seem to blame them a lot but, it is what I have been seeing every morning."


A statement from Grant's office said the MEC would then proceed to the Blackheath Civic Centre where disaster management was debriefing those affected by the tragedy.

He is also expected to visit all of the schools concerned.

Police told News24 the children were from Kasselsvlei High School, Sarepta High School, Bellville South Primary School and Bellville Technical High School.

"WCED (Western Cape Education Department) officials will work with the schools concerned to provide further debriefing and trauma counselling to learners and teachers," Grant said.

ER24 said Wednesday morning's crash was the third major crash involving a train in Cape Town in the past three weeks.