Pretoria - At least 200 people were injured, some critically, when two passenger trains collided near Saulsville in Pretoria on Thursday.
No deaths were reported, but the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (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.
Authorities said one train rammed into the back of another, which was stationary, around 7am. The railway line between Cor Delfos and Saulsville was closed.
Prasa said the cause of the accident was not known, but confirmed there had been cable theft earlier.
“We can confirm we experienced cable theft in the early hours of this morning 1/8and 3/8 as a result the automated signal was off. The trains were operated manually,” Prasa chief executive Mosenngwa Mofi said.
A board of inquiry would investigate the accident, which resulted in damage estimated at R22 million.
“We are working very hard to ensure that we bring the train service back to normality,” he said. One railway line would remain open for Thursday afternoon's peak hour.
Prasa planned to compensate the injured with R20 million to cover medical and other bills. The walk-in compensation office would be open on Friday from 9am.
The Democratic Alliance said the accident highlighted the need for an upgrade to Gauteng's railway system.
“The current trains used by the Prasa are technologically outdated and do not adhere to international safety standards,” DA MPL Fred Nel said.
“Modern trains can override driver error and prevent accidents like these from happening.”
The Congress of SA Trade Unions was shocked by the accident, which it said exposed the working class's struggle to get to work and school each day.
Spokesman Patrick Craven said while the Gautrain provided a safe, high-class service to the well-to-do minority, the poor risked their lives travelling in an unreliable and unsafe public transport system.
The union federation urged Prasa to tighten its safety measures to prevent further accidents. It wanted Prasa to urgently replace its “antiquated trains”.
In December, the rail agency awarded a US5.8 billion (R51 billion) contract to France's Alstom SA to supply passenger trains in a 10-year deal. Alstom would build 3600 new train coaches to help overhaul the country's creaking rail network. - Sapa