South Africa’s rail network is the most successful and vital element of the country’s transport infrastructure. All major cities are connected via a rail network that is the most highly developed on the African continent. That said, a number of serious rail accidents have resulted in deaths and serious injuries since the year 2000.
February 2, 2002: Charlotte’s Dale
Leaving 24 dead and 168 injured, the collision of a commuter train and a freight train in the town of Charlotte’s Dale (roughly 67 km outside of Durban) was later determined to be the result of criminal damage to the railway lines. Copper cable theft is an ongoing problem in South Africa, and has resulted in a number of accidents on the rail network. It’s this that was determined to be the cause of a collision between a commuter train and a freight train in the town of Charlotte’s Dale (roughly 67 km outside of Durban), in February 2002. The accident left 24 dead and 168 injured. Apparently because of damage to railway signals and power lines, the passenger train was unable to change track on its approach to a station, and ploughed straight into a stationary goods train on the same track.
November 13, 2006: Somerset West
In November 2006, a collision on the Faure level crossing near Somerset West occurred between a passenger train and a truck that was carrying at least 33 farm workers from a nearby vineyard. The accident resulted in 19 deaths and six injuries to passengers on the truck. The accident occurred after the truck stalled at the crossing. Although nobody on board the train was injured, many are reported to have suffered from psychological shock.
April 21, 2010: Pretoria
Three were killed and seven more seriously injured when a luxury train operated by Rovos Rail rolled out of Centurion Station and, after 19 kilometres, derailed at Pretoria. MetroRail was held liable for the damages and resulting accident claims after being found negligent (a prerequisite for a successful train accident claim) – the carriages handbrakes hadn’t been applied and wedges (also known as scotches) hadn’t been placed under the carriages wheels to keep it in place at Centurion Station.
August 25, 2010: Blackheath
In 2010, a train collided with a mini-bus containing 14 children at a level crossing in the Cape Town suburb of Blackheath. Nine of the children died immediately and five were hospitalized – one of whom died two days later at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. The accident occurred after the mini-bus driver drove around a queue of stopped cars and ahead of the closed half-booms, blocking the crossing and putting the vehicle directly in the path of the oncoming train. The driver of the minibus, Jacob Humphreys, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being discharged from hospital.
July 13, 2012: Hectorspruit
In July 2012, a a coal train travelling from Witbank to Maputo collided with a truck at a level crossing, this time in Hectorspruit, near Mpumulanga. The truck was carrying 44 farm workers. The collision killed 26 people and injured several others. As with the Blackheath incident, the driver, George Mandlazi, was arrested immediately after being treated and discharged from hospital, and was charged with 25 counts of murder, after witnesses testified that he failed to stop at the level crossing.