An industry-wide solution and a strengthened railway regulator with more powers are needed to prevent future train accidents, such as the one that claimed the lives of four people and resulted in the injury of hundreds more earlier this week, industry body, the Rail Road Association (RRA) said in a statement on Thursday.
“The loss and disruption of lives from this incident is tragic, our thoughts are with the affected families,” said RRA CEO Mesela Nhlapo.
The accident highlights the need to assist the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), which operates passenger rail services, to maintain and upgrade its rail and signalling infrastructure to match its new fleet of passenger trains, he said.
“The industry has local and international players who can offer technical, engineering and advisory assistance to PRASA to overhaul its infrastructure.”
The RRA noted that PRASA was in a sound financial position to carry out capital expenditure, but said it may face operational expenditure challenges.
It urged the agency to appoint service provides to supplement its internal capacity to fast-track infrastructure maintenance and upgrade projects, especially where funds to do so are available.
Nhlapo indicated that, at the release of the State of Rail Safety report in October 2018, Deputy Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga stated that, in the event of a rail accident, “it cannot be business as usual” and necessary steps must be taken, including stoppages and use of alternative transport, to address the issue.
The accident also highlights the need to review the role, mandate and position of the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR), stated Nhlapo.
“We must allow all relevant law enforcement authorities to investigate the causes of the accident,” he added.
He also noted that the industry may need to review the terms of the operating licences issued and the power of the regulator in the event of the violation of those conditions.
“Rail is an important mode of transport for millions of people, but we have to decide whether this is worth risking even a single life to achieve that goal.”
The RRA is ready to work with government, the industry and commuter representative groups to improve safety and reliability of rail transport, informed Nhlapo.