Rail safety regulator wants independent probe into horror crash

2018-01-10 14:49
(Image via Twitter)

(Image via Twitter)

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Cape Town – An independent inquiry is needed to find out what caused the fire that killed almost all of the 19 people who died in the crash between a train and truck in the Free State last week, the chairperson of the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) said on Wednesday.

"It has become necessary that we at the RSR establish a board of inquiry in order to establish the reasons for the fire," Dr Nomusa Qunta said at a briefing on the preliminary investigation report into the crash.

"Because we will all be aware that most of the cause of the 19 lives that were mainly lost were as a result of the fire that occurred," Qunta said.

According to the preliminary findings, Shosholoza Train No 37012 crashed into the last trailer of an articulated truck that had collected soya beans from Senwes Grainlink, about 638m away from the Geneva level crossing in the Free State.
The driver was on his way to deliver the soya in Randfontein, Gauteng, when the crash occurred.

Further investigation

According to the preliminary report, there were some bushes next to the road, but the line of sight appeared to be good.

However, the RSR wants independent investigators to look deeper into the issue.

The train was an 18-coach-long distance passenger train en route from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg. It had departed from Port Elizabeth on January 3 at about 15:00 with 713 passengers on board.

The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) had entered into a "lend lease" with Sheltam Locomotives for the use of diesel powered locomotives for Shosholoza Meyl – the long-distance train service.

There was also a train driver, a train assistant, 14 hospitality staff, one technical staff member, and six police officers.

READ: Zuma: Kroonstad crash 'a painful start to the new year'

Some of the passengers disembarked at one of the 13 stations along the way and the last stop was Henneman Station, where the train arrived at 08:33 and left for Kroonstad at 08:38, according to the report.

It weighed 720 tonnes, and had 72 axles.

At the time of the collision at around 09:00, on a "clear and sunny" day, it was carrying 599 passengers, and was travelling at a speed of 78km/h in a 90km/h zone.

The trailer of the truck had been dragged along the railway line for about 139m.

The collision left 19 passengers dead and 260 passengers, staff and crew injured. 

The truck driver, the train assistant and driver were also injured.


Preliminary investigations found that the truck driver tested negative for alcohol. He had arrived at the silo the night before at 17:00 and had slept there.

The report noted that trains are controlled by means of a central traffic control system (CTC) in Kroonstad.

The Kroonstad CTC reported a power outage at the time of the level crossing collision. The substation supplying power to the double electrified railway line, and the CTC were affected.

Investigators noted that infrastructure was seriously damaged, including tracks and wires. An overhead wire snapped and fell on to top of the coaches, and arcing was seen on the roofs of the burnt-out coaches.

The RSR wants the independent investigation to get more information about these marks, and the source and cause of the fire.

The site inspection by the RSR concluded that all the warning signs for that type of level crossing were in place.

"The level of protection is considered by RSR to be in line with requirements."

However, they also want the independent inquiry to further consider visibility at the crossing. 

Human error

Qunta said the RSR was extremely concerned by the accident, and the subsequent rear-end collision at the station in Geldenhuys, Germiston on Tuesday.

That collision occurred after a train stopped at a station and had a problem.

Another train was given manual permission to enter the station, and crashed into the train that was already at the station.

"The cause of the incident was as a result of manual authorisation," said Qunta.

As a result, the RSR has banned manual authorisations by Prasa until further notice.

"When it entered the station it failed, and as that failure was attended to, another train was authorised to enter the station as well," said Qunta.

"Obviously one can see that there is human error. The second train should not have been authorised," she said.

Qunta said the regulator was extremely concerned with the incidents in the past week.

"Because one life lost is one too many."

Read more on:    metrorail  |  prasa  |  bloemfontein  |  accidents  |  transport

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