‘We were saved by the grace of God’ – Kroonstad train driver

Several people were burned alive when they were trapped in a Shosholoza Meyl train that collided with a truck near Kroonstad in the Free State last week.
Several people were burned alive when they were trapped in a Shosholoza Meyl train that collided with a truck near Kroonstad in the Free State last week.
Image: THULANI MBELE

The driver of a Shosholoza Meyl train that derailed after colliding with a truck near Kroonstad on Thursday says he is alive only by the grace of God.

19 people died and more than 260 were injured in the crash after several carriages were engulfed in flames while passengers were still trapped inside.

“We were saved only by the grace of God. He bestowed so much mercy on us‚” the driver told Steve Harris‚ general secretary of the United National Transport Union (Untu).

The driver and his female assistant do not wish to be identified‚ Untu said in a statement issued on Tuesday‚ as they are both traumatised and do not wish to deal with media attention.

According to Untu‚ neither of them have been debriefed or provided with counselling by their employer‚ Prasa.

The statement said that the train driver and his assistant had nowhere to go in the cabin of the locomotive.

“We were stuck in the cabin‚ while we hooted non-stop at the truck and applied the emergency brakes. It was horrible. We could either jump to our deaths or wait for the impact. We had nowhere to go‚” the crying train assistant told Harris.

According to the train driver he did everything he could to prevent the loss of lives.

“I will never forget all the emotions that went through my head. The image before we hit the carrier [truck trailer] is burned into my brain forever‚” he says.

Untu said both sustained head and neck injuries and were badly bruised.

The Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) was expected to release a preliminary crash investigation report on Monday‚ but has delayed its release and called a media conference that will take place on Wednesday.

Prasa officials have laid the blame on the truck driver‚ who they say tried to “beat the train”.

The train collided with the rear trailer of the articulated tipper truck‚ which was fully loaded with grain.

The train pushed the trailer for nearly 400m before derailing.

Untu revealed that the train was travelling at 78km/h at the moment of impact and that the truck driver had tested negative for alcohol.

Harris said Untu supported the call of its affiliated federation‚ Fedusa‚ for the truck driver to be charged with murder and not with culpable homicide.

“Murder is the intentional‚ unlawful killing of another human being. By deliberately ignoring railway signs and a stop sign while a train is approaching‚ the accused acted with the intent to kill‚” Harris said.

The RSR has recommended that an independent board of inquiry should be established to investigate the circumstances surrounding the accident‚ including why five train coaches caught alight.

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