Transport union to strike amid revelation train drivers ‘use own airtime’ as system broken

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula is seen during an inspection of the train that was involved in a collison that occured over the weekend in Mamelodi, Wolmerton Train Depot in Pretoria, 5 June 2019, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula is seen during an inspection of the train that was involved in a collison that occured over the weekend in Mamelodi, Wolmerton Train Depot in Pretoria, 5 June 2019, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

There were more than 1,000 accidents on the rail network last year.

The country could be brought to a standstill when the United National Transport Union halts train services to ensure that government and all stakeholders take the safety of commuters and workers seriously.

The union was reacting to the train accident on Saturday afternoon in Pretoria, where a tamping machine rolled from Greenview in Pretoria and collided with a new Metrorail train, stationed at Eerste Fabrieke, with 300 commuters in transit.

At least 57 commuters and two crew members in the tamping machine were injured and treated in hospital before being discharged.

But some of the commuters suffered injuries because they refused to adhere to the driver’s instruction to evacuate.

Giving feedback on the SA Railway Safety Regulator’s preliminary report in Pretoria yesterday, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula was concerned there was a 2% increase in train collisions, with a recorded 1,027 accidents in the 2017/18 year.

Saturday’s collision was as a result of the usual lack of efficient signalling system between the Eerste Fabrieke and the Pienaarspoort stations, which had not been functional for about two years.

“This is a matter of serious concern due to the heightened risk of manual authorisation,” Mbalula said.

Earlier this year, four passengers died while 600 were injured in a Metrorail collision caused by a signalling problem where the control office could not communicate with the train driver. Acting Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) chief executive Nkosinathi Sishi blamed the 60-year-old rail infrastructure yesterday, saying the challenge was renewing and maintaining it.

“Signalling is crucial, it is true. Otherwise we resort to manual operation which is based on investigations, responsible for delays, cancellations and accidents,” said Sishi.

“We’re making progress. There are projects of renewing infrastructure but Gauteng is the province where we have made the most progress regarding improving the signalling system.”

Speaking to The Citizen yesterday, United National Transport Union spokesperson Sonja Carstens said the Nedlac section 77 approved the union to embark on a strike last Friday.

“We have to have our timing right and mobilise everyone on board,” Carstens said. “We want to bring the country to a standstill and send a message saying enough is enough, we want proper services. It is all of South Africa’s problem. From the police, who refuse to guard the railways, to the judiciary that is not sentencing cable thieves who damage the infrastructure.

“If signalling doesn’t work, the only way to know a driver’s location is for him to call the control office. If he has run out of airtime, we won’t know where he is. The strike we are planning is our last resort.”

– rorisangk@citizen.co.za

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