The United National Transport Union (UNTU) believes that the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) is reckless for allowing Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) trains to stay on the tracks.
The union’s comments come after the release of the latest railway safety statistics by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula on Tuesday.
The figures revealed a decrease in railway fatalities, but an increase in commuter injuries due to “operational occurrences”.
Operational occurrences include derailments, collisions, level-crossing accidents and incidents in which people are struck by moving trains, News24 previously reported.
Mbalula said 3,990 operational occurrences were recorded for the 2018/2019 reporting year, which ran from April 1, 2018, to March 31, 2019.
The report also revealed more than half of all level-crossing occurrences (56%) occurred in KwaZulu-Natal, the North West, and the Western Cape. In the 370 derailments reported, 29 people were injured and one person was killed.
There were 375 reported fatalities as a result of occurrences, representing a 17% decrease compared to the previous financial year. Meanwhile, 2,660 injuries were reported – representing a 23% increase from the year before, Mbalula said.
UNTA general secretary Steve Harris said the annual rail safety report should be called the annual derail report.
“The RSR is reckless to allow the trains of Prasa to continue playing Russian roulette with the lives of its employees and commuters,” Harris said.
Harris also disputed the statistics and said what was fed to the public and Mbalula was based on the statistics provided by the so-called Rapid Rail Police Unit, a division within the South African Police Service (SAPS).
“The RSR admits in its report, despite an overall 18% reduction in network traffic since 2012/13, operator occurrences, per million train kilometres, increased marginally by 14% but security-related incidents per million train kilometres increased dramatically by 175%.
“Our members report that the various stations of the SAPS sent them from pillar to post when they tried to report incidents in their free time due to the total lack of knowledge and incompetence of police officers in charge offices.
“The statistics on page 45 of the RSR’s report reflect this horrific bad joke. According to the report, the theft of assets only increased by 21%, malicious damage or vandalism only increased [by] 5%. There have been no trainjackings or hijackings of trains where commuters used weapons to force a train driver to continue on an unauthorised route. Personal safety incidents on trains increased with only 14% and personal safety-related incidents on stations with just 7%.
“If this was a true reflection of the reality of rail safety, the standing committee of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) would never have granted UNTU and its affiliated federation, Fedusa, a Section 77 strike certificate in terms of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) earlier this year.”