Security-related incidents constitute a mammoth challenge in the railway sector, with 97% of cases involving theft and vandalism.
Theft of assets alone accounted for 77.6% of these incidents, illustrating the gravity of these issues, Deputy Minister of Transport Lisa Mangcu said at the launch of the 2022/23 Annual State of Safety Report on Wednesday.
The report, produced by the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR), underscored an urgent call to collective action in the face of challenges that loom large over the railway system, Mangcu said.
“Our railways, connecting cities and communities, have seen 10,746 negative events in the past year – a disconcerting number that encompasses 1,833 safety-related operational occurrences and a staggering 8,643 security-related incidents.”
Operator productivity, a cornerstone of our railway system, was under siege, he said.
“Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) recorded a 12% decrease in train kilometres, reflecting issues like rolling stock unavailability, floods, and vandalism. Conversely, Gautrain witnessed a 156% increase in train kilometres and a 136% rise in passenger kilometres, while PRASA’s production declined by a staggering 74%, primarily due to challenges like MLPS service disruptions and vandalism.”
Safety-related operational occurrences, while showing improvement in some areas, reveal significant concerns in “people-related occurrences”, “station infrastructure” and “spillage/ leakage, explosion or loss of dangerous goods.”
Between 2018/19 and 2022/23, the railway sector recorded Fatality and Weighting Index (FWI) incidents, with 92 fatalities and 175 injuries from safety-related operational occurrences and 13 fatalities and 58 injuries from security-related incidents.
“While there has been a reduction in FWIs, we must not underestimate the gravity of these incidents. Our vigilance and mitigation efforts must persist.
“Collisions, derailments, level crossing occurrences, and people struck by trains all demand our immediate attention. Collisions, though lacking fatalities, are a stark reminder of the need for infrastructure improvements and enhanced operational safety measures.
”The increase in derailments per million train kilometres is a clear signal of persistent risks, Mangcu added.
“The decrease in level crossing occurrences must not obscure the fact that they still result in fatalities and injuries. These intersections require enhanced safety measures. We also witnessed a substantial decrease in the number of people struck by trains, but regions like Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape still need targeted safety measures.
In response to these challenges, the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) has undertaken various interventions, including safety permit issuance, inspections, audits, and the development of regulations and safety standards.
“Our railways are the veins that connect our nation, and we cannot allow them to wither away. It is our collective responsibility to take immediate action, to collaborate, and to drive the reforms necessary to ensure the safety, reliability, and prosperity of our railways.
“The journey ahead is long and demanding, and we must rise to the occasion,” Mangcu said.