Train collisions accounted for the highest number of safety incidents in the rail sector during 2017/18, the Railway Safety Regulator’s (RSR’s) annual ‘State of Safety’ report, shows.
Other prominent incidents included fires, platform train interchange incidents, people being struck by trains and derailments.
The RSR’s report is an assessment of the safety performance of railway operators for the reporting period from April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018, and identifies the main areas of concern. It provides input to enable the RSR and operators to develop strategic interventions to address the areas that need attention.
Providing an overview of the report’s main findings, on Friday, RSR representative Rirhandzu Mashava told delegates that train collisions increased by 1.6%, from 625 to 635 incidents, while collisions between rolling stock were responsible for 89% of injuries and fatalities.
Train derailments went up by 17% in the 2017/18 reporting period, with Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal accounting for the majority of the incidents.
“The analysis revealed that the main causes of these derailments in this reporting period were theft and vandalism, poor maintenance of rolling stock and points which had not been set correctly,” she said.
Meanwhile, distinctions were made between train passengers, pedestrians, vehicle users and the workforce, in terms of level crossing incidents.
The statistics revealed that, although vehicle occupants are the most affected, train passengers continue to carry the majority of the risks, she said, noting that level crossing incidents in the reporting period were mainly as a result of road users’ behaviour.
In the 2017/18 reporting period, there were 34 fatalities with 23.5% being road users, 6% being pedestrians and 17.5% being train passengers.
There were 336 accounts of injuries at level crossings, with 13.7% of these being road vehicle users, 3.3% being train drivers and assistants, 0.9% being pedestrians and 78.6% being train passengers.
Although people struck by trains continue to represent the greatest number of fatalities caused by railway operations, Mashava said the number of fatalities has decreased, with injuries on the rise, compared with the 2016/17 reporting period.
Most of these occurrences took place in Gauteng, followed by the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
Referring to safety and security related incidents, Mashava told delegates that incidents in the security space have increased significantly by 21.3%, increasing from 6 378 to 7 737 in this financial year.
Theft of assets and vandalism to property has continued to plague the railway environment, with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) being the most affected.
The torching of trains and vandalism of rail infrastructure hinders the industry’s efforts to have a reliable, safe and secure rail transport system that plays a key role in revitalising the economy, Transport Deputy Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga said during a keynote address on Friday.
She also spoke on the National Development Plan (NDP), which gives special priority to public transport in South Africa and calls for the sustained investment in transport infrastructure and integrated transport networks to ensure that everyone has access to economic and social opportunities.
“It supports the movement of goods and services and the facilitation of regional and international trade. Rail, therefore, has a central role to play in realising the vision of the NDP,” Chikunga said.
She further called for greater collaboration between railway industry stakeholders to build a culture of safety in South African railways, as it is “a sector [that is] driving economic development”.
“We cannot achieve the vision of zero occurrences working in silos. All of the role-players – government, operators, commuters, service providers and the general public – have to play their respective roles to significantly decrease the number of occurrences and incidents.”
In this regard, University of Pretoria’s Jan de Beer said during a panel discussion that the practical side will need to focus on longer-term solutions, which focusses more on education in various fields in order to adequately train people.
“If companies can identify what their problems are and discuss it with the institutions to see where they fit in to assist with further studies, . . . it can also help to bring about certain technical solutions, as well as safety and risk-related solutions, to the floor,” he explained.
Additionally, further research and development into technologies for the rail industry to monitor people walking or trespassing, “can definitely help”.
Improved access control will also need to be implemented, RSR’s Joseph Nethathe pointed out.
Meanwhile, Gautrain CEO Jack van der Merwe cited aging infrastructure and funding as key issues for the rail industry.
This follows on the United National Transport Union’s (UNTU’s) outrage earlier this week when Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced during his maiden Medium Term Budget Policy Statement that R3-billion would be reallocated from PRASA’s funding to help fund the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.
According to UNTU acting secretary general Sonja Carstens, this will not be beneficial to the majority of South Africans and contradicts the South African government’s plan to invest in South Africa’s transport infrastructure to reduce road deaths and traffic congestion.