PRETORIA, An independent board of inquiry will be established to investigate the circumstances that led to the collision of a passenger train and the trailer of an articulated truck in Free State Province on Jan 4 which resulted in the deaths of 19 people, says the Chairperson of the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR), Dr Nomusa Qunta.

We are in agreement (with the Minister of Transport) that a board of inquiry needs to be established in order to assist in establishing the reasons for the fire, and also to identify the root cause of the occurrences, identify the source of the fire and also to provide a way forward on what can be done to avoid similar occurrences in future, he said here Wednesday when updating the media on the preliminary findings of the RSR’s investigations into the level crossing accident as well as on the the collision between two Metrorail trains in Gauteng Province on Tuesday.

On Jan 4, a Shosholoza Meyl passenger train travelling from Port Elizabeth in Eastern Cape Province to Johannesburg collided with the trailer of an articulated truck at a level crossing near Geneva station in Free State Province. A total of 19 passengers died, while 260 passengers, crew and staff sustained injuries.

After the train derailed, five coaches caught fire and were severely burnt. Qunta said the cause of some of the fatalities was as a result of the fire which occurred.

The preliminary findings ruled out the lack of level crossing protection at the site, as it is considered by RSR to be in line with requirements. Furthermore, at the time of the occurrence, the train was travelling well below the section speed at 78 kilometres per hour. The section speed in that area is 90 km per hour.

The driver of the truck tested negative for alcohol. Additionally, there was no noticeable sign of excessive diesel spillage and arcing marks were noticed on the roofs of the carriages.

The inquiry will probe the appropriateness of the line of sight for both the truck driver and the train driver.

Another issue which will be pursued further is the train compilation and the correctness of the train consists, and the appropriateness of the train load for the route in question. Train consists are the line-up or sequence of railroad carriages or cars, with or without a locomotive, which form a unit.

The board of inquiry is expected to start its work within two weeks and complete its work in about three months.

In the other incident on Tuesday east of Johannesburg, two Metrorail trains collided at Geldenhuis station. More than 200 passengers were injured, with 67 sustaining moderate injuries and 159 sustaining minor injuries.

Qunta said the accident can be attributed to the manual authorisation done by the control officers. Train 4317 was authorised to enter the platform at Geldenhuis station. When it immediately entered the station, it failed. As that failure was attended to, another train was authorised to enter the station as well.

The second train should not have been authorised to enter at that time while they were still sorting out the technical problems with the first train, she said.

The cause of the occurrence has been attributed to human error.

RSR and the Passenger Rail Association of South Africa (Prasa), as the operator of the two trains, are focusing on the reasons for the manual authorisations. We have taken action. We have communicated with the operator that manual authorisation should cease with immediate effect, Qunta said.