The railway route that was the scene of a horrific accident involving a truck and a passenger train last week has been cleared and full services are expected to resume today.
The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) confirmed that one of its lines from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth had been reopened yesterday morning following the deadly level-crossing accident that claimed 19 lives on Thursday.
Prasa spokesperson Dr Sipho Sithole said: “The rest of the coaches and the wreckage have been cleared, with only one locomotive and four coaches still on the ground.”
The train was en route to Johannesburg from Port Elizabeth when it collided with a truck at a level crossing near Kroonstad in the Free State.
Nineteen were killed and about 164 passengers were hospitalised. Two passengers remain in hospital.
Yesterday, Free State SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Motantsi Makhele said: “The death toll in the accident remained a subject of speculation since its occurrence, due to the condition of the bodies of the victims.
“Forensic tests on the extremities retrieved in the burnt train carriages were conducted on Friday, and by the end of the day it was confirmed that 19 bodies could be accounted for. These were eight men, five women, and four girls, and two more were unidentifiable.”
According to Makhele, post-mortems would resume soon and forensic experts from Pretoria have been roped in to assist with DNA comparison that will assist in identifying the bodies.
“The families will be informed of the central place where they will converge for tests. In the meantime, Prasa has established a 24-hour line, 011 544 9623, that families can call to enquire about their loved ones who were on board the train from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg,” said Makhele.
On the day of the crash, buses were arranged to move 416 uninjured passengers from the scene to continue their journey.
Sithole said the chairperson of the Prasa board, advocate Nana Makhubele, and other board members were at the site of the accident this weekend and had visited the injured in hospital.
The train disaster has highlighted the dire state of the country’s train infrastructure, according to DA Shadow Minister of Transport, Manny de Freitas.
De Freitas said in a statement: “For years the DA had requested Metrorail, an entity which falls under the Prasa umbrella state-owned entity, to allocate a larger portion of their budget to maintenance.They have not.
“Had Metrorail followed basic safety precautions and ensured that the infrastructure was regularly maintained, the chances of this crash happening may well have been averted.
“The lack of booms and other security measures at level crossings, closing off of rail lines and controls allowed a truck driver to illegally cross the rail lines, which he shouldn’t have done.”
He added that Metrorail continued to “ignore basics, such as maintaining security fences along rail lines and ensuring signalling systems are maintained, so that early warning systems are in place”.