Johannesburg - ‘I thought I was going to die,” said a commuter as she tried to stop the bleeding from a head wound by applying pressure to it with a blanket.
She was one of about 240 commuters injured when two trains crashed at the Denver train station in Joburg at about 7 on Tuesday morning, killing a security guard.
Chief executive officer for Prasa Rail Mosenngwa Mofi said the guard, whose job was to signal the trains, was
behind the Metro Plus train when she was hit by the Business Express Metrorail which, witnesses said, was speeding.
“It hit the yellow Metrorail waiting to leave from the back. The yellow train derailed,” said witnesses Andani and Mahalatsi, who would not reveal their surnames. “Both trains were coming from Pretoria.”
At least two of the cars from the yellow train were derailed. One landed on the platform, its entire front crushed; the other went into a building crushing some of the passengers.
One woman could be heard screaming, piercing the deadly silence that otherwise had settled on the scene, as paramedics tried to rescue her from the overturned side car.
Another victim, Gabi Dladla, who was on the Business Express train, described her experience as “traumatic”. She said: “One minute I was sitting in my seat, and the next, I was flying over my seat. I heard the impact – this terrible crushing sound.”
One man who sustained a back injury told The Star he was asleep on the yellow train when the trains collided.
“I just heard this loud bang. The coach flew forward and lost its balance. I fell to the floor. There were people bleeding everywhere. I’m in shock.”
Linda Whitside said: “It felt like the train was trying to stop, as if the brakes had jammed, then there was this massive jolt.” Whitside hit her head and chest.
A few metres away from the station, Zwelethini 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 on to the train, then sparks flying and 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.
A passenger said he had taken the train from Kempton Park as usual. It stopped at Denver for about five minutes as it waited for the signal giving it permission to continue with its journey.
Tension was high between officials and passengers with a number of scuffles nearly breaking out at the scene.
Firemen and paramedics continued to rush to the scene as the morning went on to try to rescue passengers trapped under one of the yellow train’s cars.
A helicopter landed near the station to medevac injured commuters. Sniffer dogs were there to locate people crushed under the rubble of the overturned train cars.
Some of the injured sat on the platform, and some in the tunnels leading to the platform as paramedics treated them.
The Star watched as one woman trying to leave the scene because she was concerned about getting to work on time, collapsed. Paramedics rushed to her side to stabilise her.
People were crying and screaming everywhere. “I’m injured, please help,” cried one woman. “It’s hard to breathe,” she said.
“It’s just chaos here,” said an onlooker who identified himself as Nalandri. “There are so many people hurt and I’m hearing there are deaths.”
ER24 spokesman Russel Meiring said paramedics had freed a woman trapped between the train and a wall and airlifted her to a nearby hospital.
“All the patients are being moved over to a nearby platform where they’re being treated and then transported to nearby hospitals,” Meiring said.
He described the carnage. “ER24 paramedics, along with various services, arrived on the scene and found the wrecked trains blocking the tracks completely. Bent metal and parts of the train had been spread across the scene.”
Gauteng Metrorail spokeswoman Lillian Mofokeng said it was unclear what the cause of the accident was, but that it would be investigated.
Passenger Rail Agency of SA spokesman Lesedi Mapheto said he could not confirm allegations that faulty signals caused the accident.
Dipuo Peters’s spokesman Tiyani Rikhotso tweeted: “Transport Minister @DipuoPeters wishes a speedy recovery to those injured in the Denver train crash.”