Picture: ER24

Cape Town - The South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) has expressed its sadness at the "shocking deaths" in Thursday morning’s collision between a train, a truck and a light motor vehicle in the Free State which claimed the lives of at least 18 people.

The accident occurred at the Jeneva level crossing between Hennenman and Kroonstad. The train had been travelling from Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.

"Rail level crossings collisions reflect fatal statistics which point to a crisis and by their nature require drastic action, and the raising of the collective consciousness of the greatest number of people possible," said Sanco spokesperson Jabu Mahlangu, who conveyed condolences to the families that lost their lives in the crash in which the Shosholoza Meyl Train 37012 crashed into a truck, derailed and burst into flames.

Mahlangu expressed concern that almost all level crossing accidents were as a result of motorists failing to stop at clearly demarcated stop signs at level crossings.

He said that in almost every case that motorists failed to stop and give way to a train at a level crossing, there was little the train driver could do to prevent the collision or minimise its effects.

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"Trains take more time to stop, even when the driver applies brakes. A loaded train can take more than a kilometre to stop,” he pointed out.

Mahlangu said that global police figures show that up to 95 percent of crashes at railway crossings are caused by driver error which is largely attributable to inattention, driver distraction, risk taking, disobeying and lack of knowledge of the road rules and sometimes suicide.

He urged Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) to robustly engage communities in assisting with the eradication of tragic and unnecessary incidents by obeying all traffic laws governing rail level crossings at all times.

The civic organisation called for tough action against the truck driver who is  alleged to have crossed the railway line without stopping, causing the crash.

Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) acting CEO Mthuthuzeli Swartz confirmed on Thursday that the death toll stood at 18 from the accident which occurred at around 9am on Thursday which he also referred to as one of the saddest incidents in the history of Metrorail.

“We want to assure that we will be taking every necessary steps to assure that the safe services that we have been rendering continue. We, as Prasa, will never forget this incident and we will take every necessary steps to make sure that justice is served.”

South African Transport minister Joe Maswangayi, together with the MEC for Police, Roads, and Transport in the Free State, Sam Mashinini, visited the scene on Thursday.

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 09h00 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.

African News Agency/ANA