The Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) has banned the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) from operating trains under “abnormal conditions”, or manual authorisations, following a second accident in less than a week involving passenger trains.
Two Metrorail trains were involved in a rear-end collision at the Geldenhuys station, in Germiston, on Tuesday morning, injuring 226 passengers and crew.
Five days earlier, a Shosholoza Meyl train collided with a truck at the Geneva level crossing in the Free State, resulting in 19 fatalities and 260 injuries.
The Metrorail accident had been preliminarily deemed human error, as, at the time of the incident, trains had to be manually authorised by the train control officials, owing to the unavailability of the normal signalling system and issues with the signal cables.
“Train 4317 was manually authorised to enter a platform at Geldenhuys station. Immediately after entering the station, the train failed as a result of a technical problem,” explained RSR chairperson Dr Nomusa Qunta during a press briefing, in Pretoria, on Wednesday.
The preliminary results suggest the operator authorised a second train to enter the station, which had subsequently collided with the stationary train.
“This accident convinced the RSR that PRASA Rail does not have the means to prevent accidents from happening during degraded mode when manual authorisations are undertaken.
“PRASA is, therefore, prohibited from manually authorising trains until such a time that normal train services are restored or until such a time when PRASA Rail can provide the RSR with a comprehensive and convincing action plan for all affected areas in all the provinces where Metrorail trains operate,” Qunta commented.
The prohibition applies with immediate effect and will be in force nationally.
Meanwhile, a board of inquiry will be launched into the Shosholoza Meyl level crossing accident to determine the root cause of the accident, which resulted in the train’s derailment and five coaches catching fire.
It was the fire that is believed to have ultimately been responsible for the fatalities.
The Shosholoza train, which was travelling from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg, was an 18-coach long-distance passenger train carrying 599 passengers and crew at the time of the collision.
The RSR would not be drawn on the official cause of the accident, but said the preliminary investigation showed that the level of protection, with advanced warning signs and a stop sign, was in line with requirements, and that the railway line was equipped with whistle boards on either sides of the level crossing.
Further, the train was travelling at 78 km/h, under the 90 km/h speed limit enforced on that section, in clear and sunny weather.
The driver of the truck tested negative for alcohol.
The inquiry, which will start within two weeks, will be concluded within three months.
The investigation will probe the cause of the fire and the appropriateness of fire mitigation measures on board the train and awareness thereof; as well as the appropriateness of the line of sight for both the truck driver and the train driver, besides others.