State Of Safety Report 2018/2019

State Of Safety Report 2018/2019

The State of Safety Report 2018/2019, was launched on the 1st of October at the annual railway safety conference, hosted by the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR). Jointly released by the Minister of Transport and the RSR, marking the start of Transport Month.

The Minister notes that: The report paints an unflattering picture of our railways. Passenger rail remains the most affordable mode of transport and therefore a mode of choice for the poor. The grim picture painted by the Report tells a heart-wrenching story of how the poorest of the poor-risk life and limb each time they travel on our commuter rail system. This is an indictment on all of us and a clarion call to re-imagine our approach to safety in the transport environment, with particular attention to commuter rail. Organs of civil society, operators, government and all stakeholders have a common responsibility to find sustainable solutions to the safety challenges of our railways.

State Of Safety Report 2018/2019
Fikile Mbalula, the Minister of Transport (image: Craig Dean)

Over the last year, 375 fatalities were reported in the rail environment as a result of incidents related to rail operations. While this is a 17% decline from the previous reporting period, the number remains alarmingly high. Over the same period, 30 fatalities were reported as a result of criminal conduct, a 36% increase from the previous year. Similarly, 284 fatalities were reported of people struck by trains. These numbers should not only be cause for alarm but should spur us into action to reverse this trend.

Over the last five years, the largest Metros in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape were responsible for 88% of all fatalities and injuries in the rail environment. Similarly, the Gauteng Province was responsible for 88% of all train collisions since 2010/2011.

The number of reported occurrences should always be understood in the context of the intensity of operations, i.e. traffic volumes. Railway operators in South Africa have consistently been reporting declining traffic volumes over the past 10 years. Transnet Freight Rail, South Africa’s major freight operator, has reported a 20% decrease in train km since 2010/11, the tonnages transported by TFR has, however, been increasing progressively over the same period. This indicates that operations are mostly dominated by longer and heavier trains. TFR recorded an increase of 7% collisions since 2010/11.

Similarly, PRASA reported 24% fewer train kilometres since 2010/11. However, on a normalised basis, it recorded 20% more collisions in 2018/19. This means that despite a significant contraction of the service PRASA renders, they were responsible for more collisions.

During the 2018/19 reporting period, 258 safety permits were issued. Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) are the two largest Railway Operators in the country.

The Bombela Operating Company (BOC), trading as Gautrain – is another significant commuter rail operator in the Gauteng province. The remaining operators comprise tourism operators, cross border operators, surface operations on mines, rail operations in ports, municipal sidings, service lines and private siding operators in agricultural, manufacturing and petrochemical sectors. All railway operators are required by law to report all railway operations- related safety occurrences and security-related incidents to the Regulator.

A total of 3 990 operational occurrences were recorded during the 2018/19 reporting year. These occurrences include derailments, collisions, level crossing accidents and occurrences where people were stuck by moving trains. This is an 11% decrease compared to the last reporting year.

The report also covers the prevalence of security-related incidents like theft of assets, vandalism, assaults and robberies. A total of 9 268 such incidents were reported during the current reporting period. This represents a rather concerning 20% increase from the previous reporting period.

Compared over the long term since 2013/14, it is fair to state that the 2018/19 levels of all security-related incidents are out of control, with an increase of 125% having been recorded. Theft and vandalism account for 88% of all security-related incidents. The operational impact on train operations is significant and is evidenced by the amount of time that TFR and PRASA operate at degraded modes.

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