Picture: Supplied by ER24

Cape Town - The number of deaths following a collision between a train, a truck and a light motor vehicle between Hennenman and Kroonstad in Free State on Thursday morning has risen to 14.

Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) acting CEO Mthuthuzeli Swartz confirmed that the death toll stood at 14 from the accident which occurred at around 9am on Thursday.

South African Transport minister Joe Maswangayi, together with the MEC for Police, Roads, and Transport in the Free State, Sam Mashinini, visited the scene where the Shosholoza Meyl Train 37012 derailed at the Jeneva level crossing between Henneman and Kroonstad. The train had been traveling from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg when the incident occurred.

According to a statement from Maswanganyi, preliminary investigations indicate that the derailment was "caused by the truck which untimely crossed the level crossing at around 09:00 this morning". 

"Investigations indicate that the power car caught fire which crossed over to the next coach," the minister said. "To this extent (sic) the damages caused by the derailment have affected seven coaches, one of which is a power car which helps in the generation of power in the train."

It is alleged that the truck driver crossed the railway line without stopping, causing the crash.

"The driver was taken to hospital and some tests will be done so to determine whether he was under the influence of some substance. We cannot confirm what actions will be taken at this moment because clearly the authorities are still investigating the matter, but something must be done," Maswangayi said at the scene. 

Swartz sent condolences to the families of the deceased and the injured following the collision.

Swartz said it would take a minimum of 36 hours to clear the wreckage and that there would not be any way that trains would be able to move until the situation had been resolved.

“The truck driver was actually trying to beat the train, not knowing that trains are not moving slowly as they think they are. Six coaches derailed after the train collided with the second container of the truck,” said Swartz.

Swartz added that he would never say Prasa’s efforts to assist the families affected were enough for the damage that has been done by human failure.

“We have ongoing assistance to the families whose members have been involved in the accident. Counselling services are always put in place for the families involved in such instances. The severely injured passengers have been transported to private hospitals and those with moderate injuries have been taken to public hospitals."

Meanwhile, the United National Transport Union (Untu) said it condemns in the strongest possible terms the Free State train crash.

According to Steve Harris, General Secretary of Untu, one could only be furious at those arrogant drivers who ignored crucial road signals indicating a train crossing. The basis road safety rules are clear that motorist and truck drivers should always stop at a train crossing to check if it is safe to continue.

“The train driver would never have been able to continue with the train on a tar road. So irrespective of what the investigation of the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) will indicate as a cause, we can state for a fact that the railway crossing was ignored.

“This is something that happens daily at all railway crossings across the county. Drivers are simply not cautious that a train might be approaching.

“A passenger rail train at its highest speed will be traveling at 90 km per hour. By the time the driver sees a vehicle obstructing the railway line and starts applying with its emergency brake application, it will only be able to come to a complete standstill in between 500 metres and one kilometre. There is no way that the train driver will be able to prevent a coalition,” said Harris.

African News Agency/ANA