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Wed Apr 23 11:18:01 SAST 2014

Handbrakes on Rovos train were not on

Sapa | 23 April, 2010 17:410 Comments

Handbrakes of the luxury train that rolled away and derailed in Pretoria on Wednesday were not on, the Railway Safety Regulator has found.

Neither were the scotches wedged under the wheels of the train as required, acting CEO of the regulator Carvel Webb said on Friday.

"In terms of regulations, Transnet was supposed to have done it," said Webb, explaining that it was Transnet Freight Rail's electric locomotive which had brought the train from Cape Town to Pretoria.

"If I leave a load, I must make sure the brakes are on. So now we are asking the question, if there was any other arrangement, why didn't it happen?"

After bringing the coaches to Centurion, the electric locomotive was uncoupled and left the area while Rovos Rail's steam locomotive waited to be coupled onto the coaches for the last grand run into Pretoria's Capital Park station.

Instead, the coaches rolled downhill towards Pretoria, picked up speed and eventually derailed.

Two women, one of whom was pregnant, were killed in the accident. A third woman later died in hospital. All three were employees of Rovos Rail.

Webb said the investigation found that the Transnet locomotive driver had applied the train's vacuum brakes before leaving.

But, in terms of regulations, handbrakes on at least six of the coaches were also supposed to have been applied.

"You need to apply those brakes on five or six carriages so that the train remains locked," he said of the large wheels that drivers turn until they lock to keep the train stationary.

Then, scotches must be wedged under the wheels of a train staged on a gradient.

"You mustn't release the brakes of the train until you have got the locomotive coupled on it again."

He said it was admitted by Rovos Rail that they ran alongside the train trying to put brakes on, but were not successful.

The vacuum brakes alone are deemed not to be sufficient because of the unpredictability of how long they last.

"They could last for hours, the could last for days," said Webb.

"You never rely on vacuum."

He said it was true there were problems with a delay on the signals, and the brakes were under pressure.

"That is correct, but Rovos and Transnet should have applied handbrakes and put wedges on the wheels."

As a result of these findings, the regulator issued an "improvement directive" to Rovos Rail and Transnet Freight Rail.

A statement from regulator spokesman Lawrence Venkile said that in terms of the directive, both had to show that procedures that ensure that the roles and responsibilities for the hand-over of the load from one operator to the other were clearly defined.

They must show procedures relating to when the train brake is applied when the train is staged, that sufficient number of handbrakes are applied and, that scotches are applied when the train is staged on a gradient.

They must also show procedures that state that brakes must also not be released until a locomotive has fully coupled to the load.

Said Webb, "There doesn't seem to be a very explicit procedure in place between these two operators relating to the hand-over procedure."

Venkile said the directive was issued because the regulator was worried about safety issues.

Once both companies have shown which procedures they have in place, the regulator will then decide what to do.

The train was carrying 55 passengers, mostly foreign tourists, and a crew of 30.

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