News24

Runaway train: Warning screams futile

2010-04-21 23:04

Pretoria - The traumatised train manager of the Rovos Rail which derailed just outside Pretoria said on Wednesday he screamed at others to jump - but his warnings came too late.

"I screamed at the others (the passengers and crew) to tell them to jump off," Joe Mathala said of the train which sped out of control for about 10km from the Centurion station in the direction of Pretoria.

"I jumped off while it was moving."

Rovos Rail owner Rohan Vos said the train stopped in Centurion where tourists were allowed to look at the steam locomotive which would take them to the Capital Park station.

The tourists got back on the train. Workers unhooked the electric locomotive and were busy replacing it with the steam locomotive, when the carriages started rolling backwards, said Vos.

Hand-brakes pulled up

Nobody was able to stop the 19 carriages. "Three of the carriages' hand-brakes 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. Some of the carriages landed on two of the passengers.

Three people, one of whom was a pregnant woman, died in the accident.
 
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 after a train carriage was lifted off her.

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 11:00 when we heard a loud crash," said a shocked Coetzee. "We started running in the direction of the crash. 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 woman died right there."

Span told of how a man's back was broken. "It was the first man we helped. It was awful. It was gruesome."

Trauma

Werner Vermaak, spokesperson for ER24, said: "Patients were strewn all over the scene.

"Some of the passengers were thrown from the carriages and others were trapped inside. Most of the injured people sustained multiple bone fractures."

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

The remaining 68 people who were on the train were taken to the Blue Train lounge, and from there they were taken by bus.

The train derailment comes just seven weeks before hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists are expected to descend upon South Africa for the FIFA World Cup.

Isolated incident

Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said in a statement that the derailment was an isolated incident that would not affect "the country's ability and readiness to host the tournament."

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

The two-day Cape Town-Pretoria trip can cost up to R22 000.

Rovos Rail offers holiday trips across Africa.

The Rovos Rail website says the trains can carry as many as 72 passengers in 36 cabins.

The train travels around South Africa and to Namibia and Tanzania.

The train also traverses the famed "Cape to Cairo" route, a month-long journey between Cape Town and Egypt's bustling capital.

  • A previous version of this article misattributed a quote. It was Rovos Rail train manager Joe Mathala, not Rovos Rail Managing Director Rohan Vos, who said: "I screamed at the others to tell them to jump off. I jumped off while it was moving."