South Africa: Train packed with schoolchildren and commuters crashed into another full train near Pretoria, injuring up to 300 people – initial reports – 310113 1445z

A passenger train packed with schoolchildren and rush-hour commuters has rammed into another full train near the South African capital Pretoria, injuring up to 300 people, medics say.

(Photo: cache.daylife.com) Rescuers work on the site of a train accident near Kalefong station, Attridgeville, in the west of Pretoria on January 31, 2013

The accident took place before 8.00am (1700 AEDT) on Thursday when a commuter train heading from the suburbs to the capital ploughed into the stationary train on the same track.

Medical workers said up to 300 people had been treated for various degrees of injury.

“We do have 20 seriously injured,” said Johan Pieterse of Tshwane Emergency Services.

“Both of the trains were full of commuters and between them were lots of school children on the way to school,” said Pieterse.

“We counted about 50 plus children,” he added. At least three people were said to be in a “critical” condition, according to Chris Botha, a spokesman for emergency services provider Netcare.

“The people who were critically injured suffered multiple injuries to the body,” said Botha.

At least one person was airlifted to the nearby Milpark Hospital, others were taken by ambulance and many were treated at the scene.

Rescue workers struggled to cut away the tangled wreckage of the trains to free the passengers.

One of the train drivers was freed from the carriage after he was trapped for two hours.

“He’s critical at this stage,” said Pieterse.

The trains were operated by Metrorail, the country’s rail system in cities.

The cause of the accident is unknown. “At this stage we do not want to speculate,” said Metrorail spokeswoman Lillian Mofokeng.

It is just the latest serious rail accident to hit South Africa’s urban rail network.

Thursday, 31 January, 2013 at 12:22 UTC RSOE

More details from iafrica.com:

Sabotage cause of train crash?

Thu, 31 Jan 2013 12:03 PM

“Two passenger trains packed with school children and rush-hour commuters collided near the South African capital Pretoria on Thursday, injuring up to 300 people in a crash the authorities blamed on cable theft.

The crash took place at around 7.10 am (0510 GMT) when a commuter train heading from the suburbs to the capital ploughed into a stationary train on the same track.

Medical workers said up to 300 people have been treated for various degrees of injury.

“Two are critically injured, one driver and one passenger” and there are 19 seriously injured, said Mosenngwa Mofi, chief executive officer of railway operator PRASA.

It was not immediately known how many children were injured.

“Both of the trains were full of commuters and between them were lots of school children on the way to school,” said Johan Pieterse of Tshwane Emergency Services. “We counted about 50 plus children.”

Every day around 20 000 people use the blue line between the residential suburb of Kalafong and central Pretoria.

Rescue workers initially struggled to cut away the tangled wreckage of the trains to free the passengers.

One of the train drivers was freed from the carriage where he was trapped for two hours.

“He’s critical at this stage,” said Pieterse.

Police and railway investigators looking into the cause of the crash zeroed in on the theft of 25 metres (yards) of copper cable linked to the signalling system.

The removal of the cable forced drivers to switch to manual operations, which require a control centre to tell drivers if a section of track is clear before they can proceed.

“What could have led directly to the accident is still subject to investigation,” said Mofi. “Cable theft is the root cause of the accident.”

While cable theft is common in South Africa, Mofi speculated that the motive may not have been to get the valuable copper.

He said striking railworkers may have been responsible for removing the cable, as part of a pattern of sabotage seen in an industrial dispute with the owners.

“We do have a strong suspicion that it is linked with the current strike,” said Mofi. “During the strike there have been serious acts of sabotage.”

Transport Minister Ben Martins did not rule out sabotage, but said the police and justice department are investigating.

“It is time to see cable theft as an attempted homicide or attempted murder,” he said.

The crash is the latest serious rail accident to hit South Africa’s ageing urban rail network.

In 2011, 857 commuters were injured in Johannesburg’s Soweto township when a passenger train smashed into a stationary train during the peak rush-hour period.

PRASA has itself described its passengers as “travelling like cattle”.

Over 90 percent of commuter trains in South Africa date back to more than 50 years, the most recent dating from 1986.

The network is currently undergoing a major revamp to upgrade its fleet, spending 123-billion rand ($14-billion, 10-billion euros) over 20 years.”

Meanwhile Business Day Live says 20 people were seriously injured and 150 were “walking injured”.

“A METRORAIL train driver was critically injured when two passenger trains collided in Pretoria on Thursday, Tshwane emergency services said.

A helicopter airlifted him to a nearby hospital at 9am, emergency services spokesman Johan Pieterse said.

Mr Pieterse said 20 people were seriously injured in the crash that occurred at about 7am, and 150 were “walking injured”.

Police at the scene said one of the trains was stopped on the railway line between Cor Delfos and Saulsville, when it was rammed from behind by another.

Among other things damaged were the power lines on top of the trains.

Earlier, Mr Pieterse said the railway line between Cor Delfos and Saulsville had been completely closed because of the accident.” – bdlive.co.za

Prasa investigating cause of Pretoria train crash, with cable theft a possible factor

“THE cause of an accident involving two trains near the Kalafong railway station in Pretoria on Thursday morning is not known, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) said.

A Metrorail train driver was critically injured when a passenger train rammed into the back of another, stationary train on the railway line between Cor Delfos and Saulsville.

“The cause of the accident is not known at this moment. However, we can confirm we experienced cable theft in the early hours of this morning. As a result the automated signal was off. The trains were operated manually,” Prasa rail operations CEO Mosenngwa Mofi said.

“We have prioritised giving care to the commuters and employees who were on both trains … and we would like to wish them a speedy recovery,” he said.

Mr Mofi said technicians were repairing the damage. One line would be operating for the afternoon peak.

A board of inquiry would be instituted to investigate the cause of the crash, which caused about R22m in damage to infrastructure and rolling stock. Among other things damaged were the power lines on top of the trains.

The critically injured driver was airlifted to a nearby hospital, Tshwane emergency services spokesman Johan Pieterse said. Twenty people were seriously injured in the crash around 7am, and 150 were “walking injured”.

Earlier, Mr Pieterse said the railway line between Cor Delfos and Saulsville was completely closed because of the accident.

Transport Minister Ben Martins visited the scene. He and an entourage, which included provincial transport officials, walked on the railway lines towards the wreckage of the trains.

On Thursday, the railway service from Pretoria to Saulsville was stopping at Electro station, with a shuttle bus service to and from Saulsville station.” – bdlive.co.za

And finally, from the BBC

South Africa commuter trains collide near Pretoria

BBC NEWS 31 January 2013 Last updated at 11:38

Train crash

At least 300 people, including many schoolchildren, have been injured when two passenger trains collided near the South African capital, Pretoria, officials say.

Medical workers say 28 people were seriously hurt.

The theft of cables used for signalling, compounded by human error, caused the crash, said the head of South Africa’s rail authority.

South Africa is in the process of overhauling of its ageing rail network.

The early morning accident happened when a train crashed into a stationary train near Attridgeville, a township west of Pretoria.

“Both of the trains were full of commuters and between them were lots of schoolchildren on the way to school,” a spokesman for the regional emergency services told the AFP news agency.

A helicopter has airlifted one of the train drivers to a nearby hospital after he was trapped in the wreckage for two hours.

A spokesman for the local emergency services told the BBC it had transported more than 200 people, three of whom were critical, while 19 had serious injuries.

The private Netcare 911 service said it had assisted 100 people, with three critical and three more seriously injured.

The injured have all been taken to hospitals in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

“When cables are stolen it affects our signalling system,” said rail authority head Mosenngwa Mofi.

“We then move to what we call manual operations.”

In 2011, at least 800 people were injured when a speeding train hit a stationary one near the township of Soweto.