The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) deliberately ignored the Labour Relations Act (LRA) and fired the train driver in the second train that collided with another train at the Mountain View Station on 8 January 2019.

Three commuters died and 630 people of which the train crews of both trains, were members of the United National Transport Union (UNTU) were injured in the collision.

Steve Harris, General Secretary of UNTU, says the extremely traumatised train driver who is still on sick leave, were given 72 hours to explain why he should not be dismissed for alleged gross misconduct.

After he did not respond, he got another letter from his employer stating that “due to the seriousness of the matter” and his failure to respond, the employer considers his conduct as unbecoming and found that he is unable to perform his duties.

“This is totally unacceptable and absurd. PRASA is looking for a scapegoat after the Minister said on the scene of the collision that PRASA’s management should account for the incident.

“Nobody can be fired without a fair trial and UNTU has no doubt that the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) will rule in favour of the train driver. Unfortunately, the CCMA is flooded with disputes after the National Minimum Wage were implemented on 1 January 2019 and it might take a lengthy time before justice is done for the train driver,” Harris said.

Earlier the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) also placed the blame at the feet of PRASA.

“Accidents like these indicate that PRASA is in contravention of its own standard operating procedures, as well as the directives of the regulator.

“The RSR has consistently highlighted the risks inherent to prolonged periods of manual train authorisations and continues to compel PRASA to provide proper control and supervision of manual train authorisation.

“However, we keep on seeing a recurrence of incidents attributable to this method of operation. PRASA continues to demonstrate the highest levels of lethargy and disregard for rail safety in their operations”, the RSR stated in its report.

Harris says the area where the accident occurred had been operating on manual authorisation for more than a year.

On 12 October 2018 Judge Cassim Sardiwalla in the North Gauteng High Court made a ruling against PRASA and Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Transport. Sardiwalla ruled that all PRASA’s manual authorisations must be overseen by a train control officer and a section manager to limit the risk of human error occurring.

The RSR found that there was a breakdown in communication between the train control officer (TCO) and the train driver in die Mountain View collision. After the train driver repeated the authority incorrectly, the TCO acknowledged the incorrect authority. This resulted in the train entering the section between the Pretoria North and Mountain Vsiew station wrongfully.

Harris says PRASA has not yet explained why there was no section manager overseeing that specific train control officer’s manual authorisation when the collision occurred. “Had there been a section manager present, it would have been picked-up that the train driver repeated the authority incorrectly and the TCO acknowledged the incorrect authority,” Harris said.

For more information phone Harris on 082 566 5516.

Issued on behalf of UNTU by Sonja Carstens, Media, Liaison and Communications Officer. For UNTU Press Releases e-mail or phone 082 463 6806.

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