'No regard for rail safety at Prasa'

A train crashed into another at Mountain View station, northern Pretoria, on Tuesday.
A train crashed into another at Mountain View station, northern Pretoria, on Tuesday.

The Rail Safety Regulator has criticised SA's passenger rail entity Prasa following a collision between two Metrorail trains at the Mountain View station, north of Pretoria, in which three people died and more than 200 were injured.

The regulator acting CEO, Tshepo Kgare, said yesterday Prasa "continued to demonstrate the highest levels of lethargy and disregard for rail safety in its operations", and that it contravened its own standard operating procedures as well as the directives issued to it by the regulator.

The regulator issued several safety contravention notices to Prasa in recent years.

In October, it suspended Prasa's safety permit following a collision in Kempton Park in which 320 people were injured.

Prasa challenged the suspension in court, but an out-of-court settlement was reached, and the suspension was lifted. This avoided a countrywide shutdown of SA's passenger rail system.

Kgare said the RSR had consistently highlighted the risks inherent to prolonged periods of manual train authorisations and that it continued to compel Prasa to provide proper control and supervision of manual train authorisation.

In its preliminary report on Tuesday's collision, the regulator found that the rail section where the collision happened was under manual control, and that it had been since November.

It said this meant trains were under a speed limit of 30km/h.

It said the condition of the damaged trains suggested that the train travelling towards the Pretoria station may have been travelling at "considerable speed", although the RSR would only be able to confirm that once the event-recorder data had been analysed.

The preliminary investigation also found that there had been a breakdown in communication between the train control officer and a driver and that they might have contravened language policy.

"After the train driver repeated the authority incorrectly, the [controller] acknowledged the incorrect authority. This resulted in the train entering the section between the Pretoria North and Mountain View station wrongfully," the investigation found.

"This accident highlights failures at various levels," said Kgare.

"We therefore urge Prasa to address these shortcomings in all earnest."

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