Train driver suspended for crash

The driver of one of the trains destroyed in crashes on Monday has been suspended, the South African Rail Commuter Corporation (SARCC) said on Thursday.

A preliminary investigation found human error to blame for the incident, in which 144 commuters were hurt, said SARCC chief executive Tshepo Montana.

“That accident was avoidable. There was indeed human error,” he said.

Another 181 commuters were injured in a second crash the same day, but a system malfunction had been found to blame for this incident, Montana said at a briefing in Johannesburg on the outcome of a
preliminary probe into the crashes.

In this instance, the signalling equipment had been struck by lightning.

A board of inquiry is being set up to probe preliminary results and come up with corrective action, but SARCC is confident the initial findings will stand.

It said the crashes had cost R20-million in damages to coaches alone, with further damages to, among others, overhead infrastructure and claims by injured passengers yet to be calculated.

Of the injured, only five people remained in hospital, said Montana.

He said the crashes were likely to have an effect on the company’s rail insurance premiums, coming as they did a week before his planned visit to London on Monday to renew that insurance.

“This came at the wrong time,” he said.

The traumatised drivers of all four trains were still receiving counselling on Thursday. However, one of them also received notice of his suspension.

The preliminary probe found that he failed to stop at a red signal between New Era and Pollack Park on the line to Springs at 5.25pm, said Metrorail’s Gauteng head Sisa Mtwa.

Even though the driver had explained that he thought the signal was yellow at the time, he had failed to follow procedure and slow down, instead speeding up to 82km/h, said Mtwa.

This was just short of the 90km/h maximum speed allowed on that line.

Montana said that although the driver, like all employees, had rights and would be given a chance to state his case, he faced serious penalties including being removed from the company’s pool of drivers or even being fired.

The other incident at 7.10am, occurred shortly after a thunderstorm, which affected track circuits used to detect the presence of trains and regulate stop and go signals on the line, said Mtwa.

A train driver stopped at a red signal, saw a technician working on the line, asked if it was safe to proceed and, assured that it was, started going again.

It was then that the circuit stopped registering the train, giving the train behind it the green light to go and allowing it to slam into the back of the first train.

Usually all trains are separated by at least one red signal.

“We can state categorically that both train drivers followed their signals correctly,” said Montana.

Mtwa said the preliminary probe was based on information collected at the scenes of the accidents, the trains’ black boxes, the record of train movements in the areas, personnel statements and technical analyses.

SARCC has already announced that it intends replacing the country’s outdated rail signalling system at a cost of R1,6-billion, with the first phase, in Gauteng, expected to cost R520-million. - Sapa