screams as train burns

Tebogo Monama and Mfundekelwa Mkhulisi

Tebogo Monama and Mfundekelwa Mkhulisi

Panicked commuters fled a burning train near Florida station in Johannesburg yesterday and 40 people were injured in the scramble to safety.

Residents said it was the second time in less than a week that a Metrorail commuter train had caught fire at the same spot after engineers worked on the overhead cable in December.

Yesterday, the motor coach and three carriages caught fire after the cable apparently snapped above a train travelling from Randfontein through Florida to Johannesburg. On Monday, another passenger train caught fire at the same spot.

Fleets of emergency workers descended on the scene and about 100 passengers were taken to a nearby parking lot. Emergency medical technicians worked systematically to treat panicked passengers for smoke inhalation and cuts they had sustained as they fled.

At least 40 commuters, including two pregnant women and children, were slightly injured in the incident.

"We heard people screaming from the back coaches and when we looked outside of the windows we saw smoke," said Ziyanda Majambe.

She said there was a stampede as people pushed each other to get off the burning train.

"I jumped and fell on the head of another woman," said Majambe who is five months pregnant.

"Now, I'm worried because I feel pains in my stomach," she said while being treated in an ambulance.

The Nyembo family thanked God that their two-year-old twins escaped uninjured in the stampede.

"Miriam and Maria have been quiet since the incident. The have not said a word, even when talked to. I think they are shocked," said their father Yacent Nyembo.

Nizia Wessels, who lives next to the train station, said: "When it happened on Monday, I thought it was an accident. I am now furious that it has happened again. It is negligence."

Metrorail spokesman Pule Mabe said the incident was caused by a technical fault.

"A spark fell on the motor coach and that is how the fire was started. Accidents happen, but not as often as people would want to believe," he said.

Residents said Metrorail officials tried to fix the cables on Tuesday and Wednesday. They also claimed that trains have been held up under the bridge since December.

Witnesses Riaan Jegels and Shaheem Raymond were out for a tea break when they saw the train catch fire.

"We were playing soccer when the cable snapped. It was like a big welding machine. Then the cable snapped two more times," said Raymond.

Raymond helped commuters off the train.

At the scene, Metrorail protection services warned journalists to leave the scene because they said the train might explode at any moment. They tried to prevent photographers from taking pictures of the burnt carriages and broken cables.

An official photographer from the fire department was also threatened with arrest for doing his job.

Netcare 911 spokesman Nick Dollman said the injured people were taken to Helen Joseph, Leratong and Chris Hani-Baragwanath hospitals. Children were taken to Coronation Hospital.