World News

South Africa Train Crash Injures Hundreds Outside Johannesburg

Posted January 9, 2018 9:22 a.m. EST

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — A train crash at a station near Johannesburg on Tuesday derailed one rail car and injured at least 226 people, adding to concerns about rail safety and oversight in South Africa after the second serious accident in a week.

“Six to seven” people suffered moderate injuries, and 159 were taken to the hospital after the crash in Germiston, according to Eric Moloka, a spokesman for the Ekurhuleni Municipality Emergency Services. He added that there were no serious injuries.

“One train was stationary. The train in motion hit it at the back,” Moloka said. “The third coach from the rear then derailed, causing more injuries. But people were not seriously injured.”

The accident came five days after a train crashed into two vehicles at a crossing, killing at least 19 people and injuring hundreds more, about 110 miles to the southwest, near Kroonstad.

Lillian Mofokeng, a spokeswoman for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, the state-owned rail authority known as PRASA, said the moving train had been given permission to enter the station.

“How it was authorized to enter a section of track that was already occupied will be investigated,” she said.

Video footage after the crash, which took place during the busy morning commute as South Africans returned to work from summer holidays, showed injured passengers sitting on the platform as they received care from paramedics.

Chris Hunsinger, who speaks for the opposition Democratic Alliance on transport issues, said that train safety had become a “huge concern” and that the Railway Safety Regulator, a government body charged with oversight, was unable to function effectively because of an “ill-considered relationship” with transport authorities.

“The regulator should be part of the Department of Transport,” Hunsinger said. “At present, they operate as a quasi-company and are financially dependent on the department and PRASA. If they close stations or remove trains from the system, they risk depriving themselves of income.”

Hunsinger added that the signaling system was being upgraded in Gauteng, the province where Tuesday’s crash occurred, with “major issues” integrating the old network and a new control room.

As rescuers began treating the injured passengers in Germiston, around 15 families arrived at the Kroonstad morgue to begin identifying relatives who died in the crash last week, where several carriages burst into flames.

Col. Thandi Mbambo from the provincial police department told the South African news network ENCA that the condition of most of the bodies meant that they could be identified only by DNA testing, a process that takes up to three weeks.

The morgue was closed over the weekend, leaving several families in the dark about the fate of their relatives.

“My older sister was on the train with her niece, who was 7,” said a man from Port Elizabeth who asked to be identified only as Marcus. “We still don’t know what happened to them.”

He said his mother had gone to the morgue Tuesday to give a DNA sample, adding, “It’s been frustrating waiting for so long.”

Officials from the state train network pledged to investigate both crashes, while insisting that South Africans should not be concerned about traveling by rail.

“One accident is too many,” said Mofokeng, “but we want to remind commuters that rail is still the safest mode of transport in the country.”

According to the safety regulator, 495 people died in train accidents in South Africa last year, with 2,079 injured, an average of about six people per day. PRASA has been implicated in a long series of corruption and mismanagement scandals, with leaked emails revealing last year that the agency had issued dubious contracts worth more $200 million, and that the national Treasury had covered up nearly 200 internal investigations.