The number of deaths resulting from railway operational occurrences have increased by 8% in the 2016/17 reporting period, says the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR).
The regulator held a media briefing on Monday 20 November in Johannesburg. The research general manager at the RSR, Dr Cornel Manal, said about 495 fatalities have been recorded, which shows an increase of 8% compared to the 2015/16 reporting period.
About 2 079 people were injured in the current financial year, which shows a 10% decrease compared to the previous reporting period. In total, the number of operational occurrences stands at 4 066. This indicates a 5% decrease compared to the 2015/16 figure of 4 250.
“This figure is the lowest total number of operational occurrences since 2010/11,” said Manal.
Gauteng accounted for about 29% of operational occurrences, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 27% and Western Cape with 19%.
The report shows that Transnet and Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) Rail account for approximately 97% of all operational occurrences reported to the RSR. The percentage remains the same as the previous reporting period, with Transnet contributing 52% and PRASA Rail contributing 45% to all operational occurrences.
Close to 60% of all occurrences investigated were due to a human factor-related root cause.
Manal said not much progress has been made in reducing other types of occurrences such as level-crossing occurrences, people struck by trains, occurrences in which people travel outside the train (train surfing), and electric shock occurrences.
In terms of railway industry compliance, about 98% of operators seem to have complied with the reporting requirements as per the Railway Safety Regulator Act.
Over the years, the rail industry has been plagued with incidents of theft and vandalism of infrastructure such as cables, signalling equipment, transformers and rail track components.
Security related challenges in the industry also contribute to deaths and injuries. A total of 16 fatalities and 525 injuries related to security were reported.
The Deputy Minister of Transport, Sindisiwe Chikunga, said communities need to be taught and made aware of the effects that theft and vandalism have on their lives and the functioning of the trains.
She said the department is looking at improving its collaboration with the police to address challenges affecting the railway safety.
“The South African Rapid Rail Police (RRP) have only been around for about two years, so we need to review if the number of those who are deployed is enough or there is a need to increase it,” said the Deputy Minister.
The report shows that the RRP have increased their visibility during the 2016/17 reporting period and have also increased their focus on making arrests in the rail environment.
This has led to about 169 firearms valued at R749 580, and 7 592 kilograms of cables valued at R1 051 205 being recovered during RRP operations.
According to the report, a total number of 6 379 security-related incidents were recorded during the 2016/17 reporting period. This is a 13% increase from 5 520 incidents recorded in 2015/16.
Deputy Minister Chikunga said infrastructure development is also an area that needs development, but it cannot happen overnight.
The Deputy Minister said the report shows the need for government and all enterprises and other stakeholders in the railway sector to work together in order to reduce deaths and accidents.
She called on motor vehicle drivers to be vigilant and take responsibility in preventing accidents at level-crossing from happening.
Government is now investing in the revitalisation of railway infrastructure, including modernised lines, trains and signalling.
She called on members of the public to refrain from torching trains when they protest because this delays progress in terms of improving services.
RSR Chief Executive Officer Nkululeko Poya said the regulator wants to curb the number of occurrences to zero.
“What is more concerning to us are the fatalities. They seem to be stubborn because they range predominantly around 400 to 450 deaths year-on-year and it seems difficult to reduce them,” said Poya.