About 10 000 litres of diesel spilled when a freight train derailed in a suspected sabotage by striking Transnet workers on Wednesday, the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) said.
“Two locomotives and five wagons were affected, resulting in the closure of the main line to allow clearing-up operations,” the regulator said in a statement.
“Preliminary indications suggest that there was tampering with the track, resulting in the spillage of approximately 10 000 litres of diesel.”
The derailment happened at 3.30am at Burlington, near Mount Vernon in KwaZulu-Natal.
“The operator, being Transnet Freight Rail, is investigating the incident and will present its complete report to the RSR as required by law,” said the regulator.
Transnet spokesperson John Dludlu said the circumstances “indicated a callous act of sabotage that required specialist rail knowledge and equipment”.
“Approximately 100m of rail track was sabotaged … suggesting very strongly that the perpetrators had intimate knowledge of the infrastructure.”
Nobody was injured in the incident.
“Consequently, both lines have had to be closed until midnight today [Wednesday]. Our teams have been deployed to assess the environmental impact and inspect the rest of the line.”
He said Transnet was “shocked and dismayed” that the saboteurs risked the lives of others “to make a point”.
He urged striking unions to control their members and desist from acts of violence.
‘Not reasonable wage increase expectations’
The United Transport and Allied Trade Union (Utatu) on Wednesday joined the South African Trade and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu), whose members had been striking since Monday.
Both unions rejected a Transnet wage increase of 11%, demanding 15%.
Utatu general secretary Chris De Vos said on Wednesday: “The last time we spoke to Transnet was yesterday [Tuesday] afternoon when they told us to call them when we want to sign. We replied they must call us when they can improve the offer.”
Transnet employs more than 50 000 people, and Satawu represents 39% and Utatu 45% of these workers.
About 15% of workers were not striking.
Transnet obtained a court interdict on Tuesday to prevent striking workers from “unlawfully interfering with business or activities of Transnet”.
Thirteen people were arrested for public violence and intimidation during the Satawu workers’ strike in Durban on Monday.
The Democratic Alliance expressed concern about the Transnet strike on Wednesday, saying the 11% offer was almost double the current inflation rate.
“These two unions [are] attempting to use the World Cup as leverage to achieve what are, objectively, not reasonable wage increase expectations,” the DA said in a statement. — Sapa