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A sound like thunder blasted through train compartments, people were thrown from their seats, valuables flew about and glass shattered. This was the dramatic sequence of events experienced by terrified passengers in Tuesday night’s train collision at Berea Station in Durban, in which more than 50 passengers were injured.
Mthokozisi Cele, 36, who works in the Independent Newspapers press room, was one of those who escaped unharmed.
He told how one woman in his compartment was badly cut above the eye and many people lost their cellphones and bags in the chaos that followed.
Cele, who has caught the train from uMlazi to Durban for eight years, said: “We had stopped at a red light outside Berea Station and were waiting when we heard the sound of another train hooting.
“Then a deafening crash as the other train slammed into the back of us.”
Emergency personnel, including Durban search and rescue, the fire department and ambulance services, raced to the scene just before 7pm to help take patients to hospitals in and around Durban.
There was a paramedic scrum with patients, some lying in stretchers, being treated for injuries ranging from broken bones and concussion to cuts.
Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) engineers gathered in huddles.
Sandile Dlamini, who saw the incident unfolding from the adjacent long-distance taxi rank, said the railway line cable burst, sounding “like a bomb explosion”.
The train in front stopped as it approached the platform; five minutes later, the next train arrived and “slammed into the first one”.
Rose Khuzwayo, 48, one of the injured on the first train, was travelling from work in Congella. She got on to the train between Dalbridge and Berea. Her right foot was injured and she was attended to by paramedics.
“I don’t know what happened. I heard a loud bang and screamed and then the train went dark,” she said.
Another patient, who could not give her name as she was in too much pain and did not want to “scare her mother”, said she had little recollection of events, but she remembered a huge bang that sounded like a bomb going off.
Another witness said there were sparks all over the place and people jumped out of the train screaming.
Durban fire department acting division commander Max Magnussen said emergency personnel could not reach the site by vehicle and had to “trek” up stairs and over an overhead bridge with their equipment.
“Fortunately there were no fatalities, fire or entrapments and minimal damage to the trains,” he said.
ER24 spokesman Russell Meiring said a disaster management centre had been set up by ER24 and EMS on site.
“Metrorail shut down all trains in the vicinity and electricity so that emergency services could work safely,” he said.
A security cordon was thrown around the scene, with Prasa officials denying media access and refusing to comment.
Metrorail spokesman Zama Nomnganga said journalists were denied access because the area needed to the cleared before Wednesday morning.
Nomnganga said the focus on Tuesday night was on getting commuters to hospitals and safety. They did not yet know what had caused the accident.
“We aim to have the lines up and running by (this) morning, as that is an A-corridor line,” he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Transport, Kwanele Ncalane, said: “We sympathise with those who suffered and will ensure that a full and thorough investigation is conducted.”
In December a similar train accident took place at the Berea Road railway station, injuring 12 people.