Rail safety authority set to crack the whip

,"Incidents" cost railway operators R2billion between 2005 to 2007, the Railway Safety Regulator said.

,"Incidents" cost railway operators R2billion between 2005 to 2007, the Railway Safety Regulator said.

"We have done an assessment. In many of the incidents it is an issue of human error," said RSR chief executive officer Mosenngwa Mofi. He said this could be passed off as "the driver made a mistake".

"We didn't just look at the superficial reasons, we also looked at the underlying causes," said Mofi.

Those underlying reasons could be poor planning, bad work conditions and malfunctioning equipment. Drivers were more likely to make mistakes when the work environment around them was conducive to errors.

Mofi said this was one of the reasons the RSR was rolling out a programme to standardise the certification of train drivers.

Currently, railway operators train and certify their own drivers with little oversight from government. The RSR is planning its own certification programme and hopes to implement it in September.

This is one of several new regulations the RSR is attempting to push through. Under current regulations, the RSR can shut down part of a railway line if it determines it to be unsafe.

He said that under new regulations, which were awaiting promulgation, the RSR would be able to fine railway operators.

"We felt these [previous rules] were not enough. We have to punish operators, and we'll hit them in their pockets," he said.

Mofi's remarks were part of an awareness campaign by the RSR.

Transport Minister Jeff Radebe covered the same topic at Johannesburg Park Station last week.

"We wish to expose the public to our organisation," said Mofi.

He said most incidents could be described as derailments. In the case of freight giant Transnet Freight International, about 80percent of its accidents were due to derailments and collisions.

In the case of Metrorail, which handles passengers, the incidents were mostly arson attacks on the rail cars followed by vandalism.

"The arson attacks are mostly related to train delays. Passengers get impatient and burn the trains," said Mofi.

He said derailments were due to the growth of informal settlements near train tracks.

"There are big problems with the mushrooming of informal settlements near rail tracks. The number of incidents is increasing," he said.

Because the settlements arose without planning, there are no designated crossing areas. This has resulted in more human accidents. Having large numbers of people so close to rail tracks has also resulted in vandalism and theft of the equipment necessary for running a functional railway.

This was connected to the ageing of South Africa's rails and the training of rail workers. - Sapa