File Picture: David Ritchie/ANA Pictures

Cape Town - The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) is sitting on the ticking timebomb of another serious train accident, the United National Transport Union (Untu) warned on Tuesday.

Untu general secretary Steve Harris said the safety of passenger trains in the country is deteriorating daily to such an extent that “it is only a question of time before we see yet another serious train accident”.

According to Harris, there has been an increase in train hijackings in Gauteng but Prasa is keeping quiet about the trend. A train hijacking occurs when commuters force the train driver to continue a route unknown to him or her.

“The train drivers are trained on specific routes. Before they drive a new route, they undergo training. When commuters force a train driver to continue a route unknown to him or her, the train driver drives blind. They don’t know where there are signals or a turn or a steep curve on the route. When forced drive like this, they can easily derail the train which could result in fatalities,” said Harris.

The situation has gotten worse after the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR), the watchdog of train safety, allowed Prasa to operate trains with manual authorisation, but on the condition that the train does not increase its speed to more than 30 kilometres per hour.

This was done to ensure train safety after the RSR found that human error was to blame for two collisions in the East Rand within six months of each other when manual authorisation was used.

“Prasa is unable to replace all its broken signals and do away with manual authorisation due to the constant criminal activities and vandalism of the rail infrastructure. The Rapid Rail unit of the South Africa Police Service (SAPS) lacks the expertise and the crime intelligence to combat the copper theft by international crime syndicates who are targeting the rail infrastructure because it is such a soft target,” said Harris.

- African News Agency (ANA), Editing by Lindiz van Zilla