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Did failed signal cause horror train crash?

Published Apr 29, 2015


Johannesburg - The Metrorail train wasn’t supposed to have stopped at Denver station at about 7.10am on Tuesday.

Sources said when the train leaves Pretoria, it stops at a few stations such as Centurion, Kempton Park and Rhodesfield, with Johannesburg Park station the last stop.

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On Tuesday, however, the MetroPlus train stopped at Denver station, allegedly because the driver wasn’t getting a clear signal as to whether he should continue with the journey.

“He wasn’t sure about the signal, so he stopped and called signal operators to confirm whether he should go or not,” the source said.

For metro guard Tiisetso Napo, those few minutes of uncertainty over the signal led to her death. The 32-year-old woman’s duties were to check that there was no one on the platform after the train picked up passengers or offloaded them.

She would then close the doors and inform the driver all was clear.

On Tuesday, there were no passengers to drop off or pick up at Denver and Napo was seated in her chair at the back of the MetroPlus train as the driver waited for the signal.

Suddenly, a Business Express approaching from behind rammed into her train, sandwiching her between two pieces of steel.

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A passenger who was in the MetroPlus and always travels by rail to work said the driver and commuters were waiting when they heard a loud bang and a grinding sound from behind.

The impact was so hard, it caused a carriage to derail, topple over and hit a building on the platform.

The 31-year-old man said there was mayhem as people bolted out of the doors.

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People were crying and screaming everywhere.

A woman’s screams pierced the deathly silence that had fallen on the scene as paramedics tried to rescue her from the overturned side-car. “I’m injured, please help,” she cried. “It’s hard to breathe.”

Her cries and screams turned into heartbreaking howls that reverberated through the station, according to other witnesses.

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Napo died at the scene and the Business Express train driver – the screaming woman – was trapped in her seat for some time. She was freed after a few hours and airlifted to hospital in a critical condition.

Another victim, Gabi Dladla, who was on the Business Express train, said it was a traumatic experience. “One minute I was sitting in my seat, and the next I was flying out my seat. I heard the impact – a terrible crushing sound.”

A few metres away from the station, Zwelithini Manyathi was busy at his shoe repair stall when he heard a bang, followed by screams.

When he looked up, he saw overhead electricity cables falling to the ground and onto the train. Sparks started flying and there was a cloud of smoke.

When a screaming crowd emerged from the station, running, he abandoned his stall.

“I was scared that I might be electrocuted, and when I saw the people running from the station, I also had to run for my life.

Napo’s colleague described her as “jolly and a runner of note”.

In 2011, she took part in SABC1’s reality show Dance Your Butt Off, a dancing competition that incorporated dancing moves that would lead to weight loss.

As the weight slowly melted, Napo took to running, taking part in many ultramarathons such as the Comrades and the Two Oceans.

Just two days before her death, she took part in the Slow-Mag Marathon in Benoni, where she ran 10km.

Joburg Emergency Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi said 240 people were injured in the crash, with about 80 released from hospital late on Tuesday. Five, including the train driver, were critically injured.

Transport Minister Dipuo Peters described the crash as “devastating”.

“Prasa (Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa) and the Rail Safety Regulator are here to investigate and to give an exact picture of what happened. We will find out both the technical and human elements of this accident.”

The minister also appealed to commuters not to allow this accident to stop them from travelling with Metrorail.

“Safety is our first priority. Commuters know themselves that our trains are safe; one accident should not deter people from using the railway system.”

Prasa group chief executive Lucky Montana said: “No stone will be left unturned to get answers about what happened here today.”

He said all those injured would be supported and all medical bills would be taken care of.

Montana said Prasa would cover Napo’s funeral and burial costs, adding that they would also provide support to her family.

The Star

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