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Metrorail on Saturday defended the competence of the driver of the train that rammed into the back of another stationary train in Pretoria, saying he was not previously involved in a similar accident.
“The driver in question, Mr Gert Kotze, joined the rail industry in 1977 as a train assistant,” the company said in a statement.
“In his entire 36-years commuter train operating career, he has never been involved in a train collision.”
Metrorail was responding to a Saturday report that the driver of the train had a 12-month final written warning for violating safety standards, and was removed from driving and reassigned to other duties.
The Citizen reported that the National Transport Movement (NTM), a breakaway union from SA Transport and Allied Workers Union, made the allegation following a statement by the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) claiming the union had been linked to the recent torching of trains around the country.
“This driver had to be used because of the strike action,” NTM president Ephraim Mphahlele told the newspaper.
“We believe that operations are suffering and they ended up having to use this driver at the last minute.” Mphahlele said the driver had not been driving for the past two years.
However, Metrorail said that according to their internal disciplinary records, Kotze only had one offence against him and it was not related to a train collision.
“(Kotze) was given an appropriate sanction of 12 months written notice expiring this month on February 23, 2013,” it said in a statement.
The offence was related to operational information and not driving, it added.
The offence was aggravated by violent commuter behaviour towards Kotze and involved an emotional and physical assault, it added.
Metrorail Gauteng provincial manager Tembela Kulu said it was worrying to see the leader of NTM being insensitive to an employee who is in a critical but stable condition.
“Seeing leadership - which is mainly constituted of former Prasa employees dismissed on account of gross misconduct - being capable of spreading such wrong information, that is aimed at creating confusing and negative perception on the competency level of our train operations crew, is a serious disappointment,” she said.
She added that they did not rule out the possibility that NTM was liked to the torching of their trains, but did not want to “pre-empt the outcome of the investigations”.
At least 200 people were injured, some critically, when the two passenger trains collided near Saulsville in Pretoria on Thursday.
No deaths were reported, but Prasa said two people, including a train driver, sustained critical injuries. Nineteen others suffered serious injuries.
Paramedics examined 350 people, including children, at the scene.
Kulu said an internal board of inquiry had been appointed to investigate in detail the cause of the accident. - Sapa