Union points finger at Transnet for North West train crash

30 December 2020 - 06:00
The cab of the passenger train locomotive after it rear-ended a stationary Transnet freight train near Leeudoringstad in the North West on December 12.
The cab of the passenger train locomotive after it rear-ended a stationary Transnet freight train near Leeudoringstad in the North West on December 12.
Image: Supplied

The collision between a Shosholoza Meyl passenger train and a stationary freight train in North West earlier this month could have been avoided if Transnet had acted faster to repair vandalised signalling infrastructure, says the United National Transport Union (Untu).

Six people were hurt when the passenger train collided with two empty ore wagons near Leeubos station on a single track section of the Johannesburg-Cape Town mainline in the early hours on December 12.

A preliminary investigation carried out by the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) found the passenger train had crashed into two empty ore wagons that were detached from the rear of a Transnet Freight Rail (TFR)  train.

"The TFR goods train was stationary near Leeubos after emergency braking, reporting to the Klerksdorp centralised traffic control (CTC) by cellphone that wagon numbers 45 and 46 had separated from the train at approximately 3.55am," said RSR spokesperson Madelein Williams.

Both trains were being controlled by manual authorisations from the Klerksdorp office as the centralised traffic control system had been down from the previous day.

The train control office, however, was allegedly unaware hat there were still wagons blocking the section when the Shosholoza Meyl train driver was given authority to enter that section of track.

Untu general secretary Steve Harris said the union had previously raised concerns with Transnet CEO Portia Derby over how trains were manually controlled on this route.

Transnet has been forced to introduce manual working procedures on the route following the theft of overhead electrical wires and signal cables.

The union claimed, however, that Transnet was not complying with train working rules, raising the chances of accidents occurring.

“We [Untu members] have been struggling for a while now, but it cannot go on like this," Uuntu executive council member Scott de Koker wrote in an e-mail to Derby.

While Derby allegedly ordered Transnet managers to address the situation, the problems were not fixed, Untu said.

Transnet and the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) continue to grapple with cable thieves who have stripped hundreds of kilometres of SA's railway lines of electrical equipment.

"The issue of theft and vandalism of our track equipment is a very big problem TFR is faced with," said TFR spokesman Mike Asefovitz, adding the state-owned enterprise was "working with relevant stakeholders to address this matter".

Untu said the RSR had a responsibility to act against rail operators who continue using manual authorisations indefinitely.

"The RSR is failing in its duty," said Harris.

In July 2019, Untu and the Federation of Trade Unions of South Africa (Fedusa), handed a memorandum to President Cyril Ramaphosa demanding that the army be deployed to protect SA's 37,000km of railways from vandals and scrap thieves.

The union also demanded the 3,348 officers of the Rapid Rail Police Unit of the police service stick to an agreement with Transnet and Prasa to prevent and investigate rail-related crime.

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