It was time for innovative ideas to put an end to rail carnage as South Africa’s rail networks were slowly becoming the “killing fields” similarly to fatal roads, newly appointed Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said yesterday.
Mbalula was reacting to the injury of more than 50 people when a tamping machine, which was under maintenance, collided with a new Metrorail train that carried about 300 commuters in Pretoria.
The tamping machine rolled about 5.5km from Greenview back to Eerste Fabrieke station on Saturday afternoon, until it collided with the stationary Metrorail train.
The machine, owned by Plasser South Africa, was contracted by Transnet Freight Rail to tamp the track ballast under the railway track. The majority of the passengers got injured because they refused to evacuate the train as instructed by the driver, Metrorail spokesperson Lillian Mofokeng said.
“They didn’t want to leave. I think it was an issue of confusion.
“Those who were injured did not listen to the instruction of leaving the train. Since our new trains have new features of pulling the emergency brakes, some passengers did that and that prevented the driver from doing anything like trying to reverse to lessen the impact.”
More than 50 people were injured and transported to Steve Biko Academic Hospital and the Tshwane District Hospital, both in Pretoria.
All were later discharged but the driver of the machine remains in hospital. Mbalula expressed his sadness about the accident, saying that the accident was a “baptism of fire” as he was only two days into the new job.
He said he had instructed the Railway Safety Regulator of SA to prioritise investigations into the collision and he would report back to the victims and the public.
“We will also outline steps that will be taken to deal with the cause of the collision,” the minister said yesterday. “Prasa was also instructed to submit an urgent report to the injured and their families, outlining the necessary support to be provided.”
But he found it unacceptable that the rail network was becoming similar to the nation’s fatal roads.
“It can’t be that our rail network is taking the same path similar to the crashes on our roads. Our rail network is slowly becoming the killing fields, just like our road networks. It is unacceptable.
“I will soon meet all the transport rail and road entities to deal with this matter as a priority. Time has come for new and fresh ideas to stop the carnage.”
Mofokeng said Metrorail was doing everything possible to ensure full train operations resumed today.