Soweto train crash investigation report released

Saturday, September 29, 2012
Nthambeleni Gabara

Johannesburg - The Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) on Friday released its long awaited investigation report on the Metrorail Soweto train crash that left 857 commuters injured.

Last year, on May 19, a speeding train travelling between Mzimhlophe and Phomolong in Soweto en route from Johannesburg to Naledi, collided with a stationary Soweto Business Express train after sustaining a rolling stock failure.

The report fingered the train driver, who was fired by Metrorail shortly after the crash, as a high risk individual with a history of speeding.

Briefing reporters, chairperson of the Board of Inquiry, Dr Chris Dutton, said the risk profile of the train driver indicates a prevalence of over speeding incidents in August and November 2009 as well as March 2011.

"The driver risk profile also shows that in June 2005, the driver did not sign off for duty, in August 2010, he refused a lawful instruction, while in September 2010, he was responsible for a train delay and in March 2011, he was late for duty.

"Our conclusion is that the driver is a high risk and if disciplinary hearings were applied properly, the driver would have been fired before the fatal crash," he said.

In terms of Passenger Rail Agency South Africa (PRASA) disciplinary procedure, the process resulted with the driver receiving three previous over speeding sanctions from September 2009 to April 2011, two of which resulted in six months warning and the last one a 12 month warning.

"The accident in November 2009 should have resulted in a 12 month warning, while the accident in April 2011 would have been sufficient to take the driver off the footplate. These points to a substandard process with the (disciplinary) procedure," he said.

According to Dutton, the weather on the day of the accident was cool as there was no cloud cover or any other natural restriction of vision of signals.

He said all signals were visible and their location was not confusing to the driver, however, he said the horizontal alignment of the section of line between signal 934 of the speeding train and the rear end of the stationary train was in a cutting and a curve such that the driver would have limited vision to the rear end of the stationary train.

Dutton said analysis from the data logger on the speeding train showed the signals were passed at speed and no attempt was made to stop. The train driver exceeded the 30 km/h speed restriction.

He said one of the three lines where the accident occurred, which he referred to as the up slow line, was closed in December 2010 due to flood damage.

Dutton maintained that if the line was available, the stationary train would have been routed onto the up slow line and the crash may not have happened.

As the train is reported to have been overcrowded, Dutton said overcrowding was not conducive to safe running of trains.

The report also singled out a communication break-down as another area of concern as train drivers resort to using their cellphones as a result of the regular equipment failure in the trunking radio.

Metrorail provides train drivers with R200 worth of airtime to communicate with their Train Control Officers, however they indicated that the airtime was not enough resulting in them using messages instead of voice communication.

According to the report, the train driver of the stationery train was also to blame for the accident as he did not report the failure of the train to the Train Control officer; instead he wasted time phoning another driver and technical control.

"The act of not reporting directly to the Train control Officer when normal train operations are interrupted is a substandard act.

"Should the correct procedure have been followed the Train control Officer may have had the opportunity to inform the driver of the train of the prevailing circumstances which may have averted the accident," said Dutton.

In June this year, PRASA boss, Lucky Montana said they were planning to buy thousands of new trains - with most manufactured locally - and was refurbishing old coaches, while revamping and modernising stations and signaling.

Briefing the National Council of Provinces' (NCOP) select committee on public services, Montana said a preferred bidder for the building of new passenger coaches would be announced in November and he expected the new train sets to be running in 2014.

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