Despite improvements, rail safety remains a concern – RSR

27th November 2020 By: Donna Slater - Creamer Media Staff Writer and Photographer

Despite improvements in some areas of national railway safety, statistics in the latest 'State of Railway Safety Report 2019/20', published on November 27, reveal “a grim picture of safety within the railway industry”, the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) reports.

Despite an overall 24% reduction in network traffic since the 2010/11 reporting period, operational occurrences per million train kilometres still increased by 6%, while security-related incidents per million train kilometres increased dramatically by 105%.

A total of 3 392 operational occurrences were recorded during the 2019/20 reporting year. These included derailments, collisions, level-crossing accidents and occurrences where people were stuck by moving trains.

This represents a 15% decrease compared with the previous reporting year.

The operational occurrences resulted in 1 210 injuries, representing a 55% decrease compared with the previous year.

Additionally, the statistics indicate a 24% decrease in the fatality weighted injuries (FWI) as a result of operational occurrences. The FWI is taken as a statistical equivalent of ten injuries to one death.

While platform-train interface (PTI) occurrences decreased by 27% year-on-year in the 2019/20 reporting period, PTI occurrences contributed to 20% of the overall recorded operational occurrences in the 2019/20 reporting period.

During the period under review, Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) experienced a 28.9% decrease in train kilometres travelled since the 2010/11 reporting period.

TFR trains travelled 32.7-million train kilometres during the 2019/20 reporting period, compared with the 46-million train kilometres in 2018/19.

However, the tonnages transported by TFR have continued to increase during the period under review, indicating its operations are dominated by longer, heavier trains.

Since the 2010/11 reporting period, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa experienced a 32% decrease in train kilometres and a 75% decrease in passenger kilometres, while the Gautrain achieved an increase of 643% in train kilometres and a 41% increase in passenger kilometres from the first full year of operations in 2011/12 to the 2019/20 reporting period.

The RSR also reports that the 2019/20 period experienced egregious acts of criminal activity targeted at major operators, with an increase in the prevalence of theft and vandalism of rail infrastructure.

An increase of 8% in the total number of security-related incidents has been reported when compared to the previous reporting period. This can be attributed to the open nature of the network and the lack of security which exposes commuters, trains and railway infrastructure to criminal activity.

RSR acting CEO Tshepo Kgare says the “grim numbers in the report confirm that the state of safety of South African railways remains dire. More must be done so that we turn the tide and ensure that the massive investments in rail infrastructure result in tangible improvements in safety.”