Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula says operational occurrences have resulted in 375 people losing their lives in the country’s rail network in the financial year that ended on March 2019.
The Minister said this when he briefed the media shortly after he, along with the Railway Safety Regulator, released the occurrence statistics contained in the State of Safety Report 2018/19. The briefing took place on the side-lines of the Annual Rail Safety Conference at the Devonvale Gold and Wine Estate in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape.
“A total of 3 990 operational occurrences have been recorded during the 2018/19 reporting year.
“These occurrences include derailments, collisions, level crossing accidents and occurrences where people were struck by moving trains.
“This is an 11% decrease compared the last reporting year. These operational occurrences resulted in a total of 375 fatalities (sic),” he said.
Addressing the safety conference shortly before the media briefing, Mbalula said while this indicated a 17% decline from the previous reporting period, the number remains “alarmingly high”.
He said that over the same period, 30 fatalities were reported as a result of criminal conduct, a 36% increase from the previous year.
He also said 284 fatalities were reported of people struck by trains.
“These numbers should not only be cause for alarm, but should spur us into action to reverse this trend,” he told conference delegates.
Efforts to improve safety on track
Briefing journalists, Mbalula said improving the state of affairs on the railways remained government’s top priority.
He said as part of his first 100 days in office, his aim was to ensure that he curbs train delays and safety on the trains was improved.
“Where we [marked] 100 days, we launched what we call the War Room.
“The War Room is looking at all other aspects in relation to the deficiencies in passenger rail in particular…
“In terms of safety, we are going to bring a new security arrangement on the trains. Our envisaged situation is that these people will be trained in terms of crowd control and combat reaction because there are crooks who are stealing cables and doing all sorts of things, so we must be combat ready in terms of that.
“[The] SA Police Service will assist us in terms of training for that security component,” he said.
Mbalula said the fatality rate warrants urgent action.
“These are breadwinners that are taken from their families, innocent children that are orphaned and commuters who are injured while trying to fend for their families.
“We cannot sit back and fold our arms while the state of safety in our railways remains dire.
“We must redouble our efforts to turn the tide and ensure that the massive investments in rail infrastructure result in tangible improvements in safety,” said the Minister.