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04 July 2011

50 killed on Cape rail lines

JANIS KINNEAR

Staff Reporter

AT LEAST 10 people are killed every month on railway tracks in the Western Cape while crossing tracks illegally or by being hit at level crossings.

Figures from the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR) show that between January and June 22, there were 50 deaths and 32 injuries on railway lines in the province.

Now the Western Cape government wants answers, saying it will be asking the RSR for details on each incident.

Last year, 109 people died and 57 injuries were recorded.

The RSR says thousands of people continue to break the law by crossing the tracks illegally.

The latest death occurred on Saturday evening when a man, believed to be in his thirties, was hit by a train close to the Nyanga Junction station.

Provincial police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Andrè Traut said an investigation was under way to identify the man and the circumstances of the incident.

Transport MEC Robin Carlisle said he was concerned by the high number of deaths and that his department would approach the RSR for details on each one.

“Every single death is a tragedy and I would like to appeal to people to be extremely vigilant when crossing railway lines,” he said.

“Very often it is through carelessness that pedestrians and motorists are struck by trains and we need to increase awareness and we need people to be more vigilant,” said Carlisle.

In January the Cape Argus reported that a man had been killed at the Nyanga Junction station after he gained access to the tracks through a gate a few metres from the station.

Large sections of fencing on either side of the tracks were damaged and remain in disrepair.

RSR general manager for safety assurance Letsane Rathaba said some of the train deaths could be attributed to suicide.

“The number of these occurrences is high,” he said.

Rathaba said the biggest contributor to the rising number of train deaths was people who continued to trespass on to the railway lines.

He said that between 2008 and 2009, the police had arrested 13 281 people for illegally crossing railway tracks, 10 384 for travelling without a valid ticket, 1 627 for disembarking from a moving train and 737 for getting off the train at an unlawful place.

“These are typically the people who fall victim to being hit by trains,” said Rathaba.

A Metrorail train driver, who during his 30 years of service has been involved in more than 30 fatal accidents, slammed Metrorail, saying the parastatal was losing skilled drivers, wasting taxpayers’ money and had no regard for the millions of commuters who depended on its trains.

He said train drivers were unfairly blamed for train deaths, which were unavoidable, and that the majority of people were killed at level crossings with no barriers and after walking on to the tracks where there was little or no fencing.

Metrorail regional manager Lindelo Matya said: “We are required to report all incidents to our safety oversight authority, the Rail Safety Regulator, who is mandated to release statistics.”

Two years ago, in terms of a multimillion-rand settlement won by the Railway Commuters’ Action Group (RCAG), Metrorail was forced to ensure the safety of commuters.

But RCAG’s Leslie van Minnen said train deaths continued to happen regularly.

He said that since the court order, there had probably been only a 15 percent improvement in terms of safety measures implemented by Metrorail.

“But it means nothing,” he said.

“Metrorail has washed their hands of the legal agreement we signed.”

- Cape Argus