Train crash might be linked to strike

Prasa says staff will continue being trained to handle trains better when cables are stolen.

The scene where two trains collided in Atteridgeville on 31 January 2013, injuring over 300 people. Picture: Netcare 911.

PRETORIA - Transport Minister Dikobe Ben Martins said ongoing training is being given to Metrorail staff responsible for operating trains in instances of cable theft.

One passenger train crashed into the back of another in Atteridgeville on Thursday after cables were stolen and the trains signalling system had to be operated manually.

Around 300 people including schoolchildren were injured.

Two of them are in a critical condition at the Kalafong Hospital.

Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) Chief Executive Officer Mosenngwa Mofi said it was cable theft and subsequent human error that caused the crash.

He said 50 schoolchildren were among the 300 injured people.

Martins said there was a higher dependency on human nature when cables along railway lines are stolen.

"When the system switched over to manual, the dependency goes to a higher degree."

He said operators need to receive more training to minimise the risk of anything going wrong during this time.

"There is ongoing training and support for people who carry out this function."

Prasa have launched an internal investigation into the accident.

Meanwhile, Metrorail Gauteng's Lillian Mofokeng said both train operators who were rescued are in stable condition.

Tshwane Emergency Service's Johan Pieterse said they managed to free one train operator who was trapped during the crash with the jaws of life.

Buses were on scene to transport those who were not injured.

'CRASH MAY BE LINKED TO UNION STRIKE'

Mofi said the cable theft may be linked to the ongoing strike by the National Transport Movement (NTM).

Metrorail employees affiliated to the union have been on strike for almost two weeks now.

Prasa management has laid malicious damage to property charges against its leadership after four trains were torched in Gauteng.

Mofi said Prasa will investigate whether the strike can be linked to the cable theft.

"We do have strong suspicions that there may be a link with the current strike."

NTM members are striking after Prasa and national carrier South African Airways failed to recognise the union.

The union denies all claims made by Prasa.

But Mofi said it was not the first time they suspected NTM of vandalising their property.

"In the past week alone, we had four incidents of arson and this can be directly linked to the strike."

NTM has threatened legal action against Prasa.

SERVICE DISRUPTIONS

Prasa says it expects significant disruptions on the route from Pretoria to Atteridgeville while repairs are done to the trains involved in the crash.

Mofi said the almost 20,000 people that use the route daily will be temporarily inconvenienced.

"The damaged coaches will be out of service for a while."

He said that means the capacity to carry people during peak times would be much less.