Mahalapye — A two-week public enquiry into the December 2019 Botswana Railways (BR) train accident that claimed the lives of two crew members commenced in Mahalapye yesterday.
The enquiry started with evidence from one Mr Motimedi Ngati, a field service engineer at Progress Rail, the company that manufactures the locomotive in question.
Mr Ngati's evidence-in-chief detailed the north-bound train's trip from Lobatse to a place near Bonwapitse, where the accident occurred.
Appearing before the eight-member enquiry board, Mr Ngati the BD5 goods locomotive with a 3 250 horsepower, was used for haulage of passengers without permission.
He said being the person responsible to issue such authorisation, he had only known about the decision to use the locomotive to haul passengers a day before the accident.
Though the use of a goods locomotive to haul passengers had occurred at BR before, the difference was that in the current case no authority had been sought, he observed.
"Using a goods locomotive to haul passengers was once done in December 2018 and the manufacturer had warned that in doing so, BR risked losing out on the warranty on the said locomotive.
But it was the first time that that was done without my permission," he said in reference to the locomotive's use in the 2019 incident.
Upon probing on what action he took after learning that a goods locomotive would be used for passenger hauling without his permission, Mr Ngati said he had taken none.
On another issue, the witness said while information recovered from the locomotive's events recorder did not indicate any anomaly in the train's operations prior to communication with it being lost, he had learnt that at one point the number of persons in the driver's cab had exceeded the two provided for by the manufacturer. After a brief adjournment which the ordered to enable him to confirm the number of persons allowed in the cab, Mr Ngati said the presence of additional persons in the cab introduced some level of risk with regard to train safety.
He explained that from the information he had gathered, a BR civil engineer had entered the cab, increasing the number of occupants to three.
"It's a safety risk to have more than the stipulated number of people in the cab," he pointed out.
On yet another issue, Mr Ngati said the locomotive in question had no safety belts in the cab.
Upon being asked whether installing them in BR trains would help prevent deaths, he said the cost of having them installed was immaterial given potential consequences of them not being there.
Overall, Mr Ngati said while the locomotive's events recorder had not shown any unusual activity during the course of its journey from Lobatse to the accident scene, some of the things that usually happened during a derailment were not captured in the recorder.
Ordinarily, he said, there would be changes in the locomotive's brakes, the pneumatic control switch would open and the emergency brake application would be activated, none of which happened.
He said with communication having been lost prior to the accident, he was in no position to explain why it did not happen.
Before the enquiry commenced, board chairperson Mr Olefile Moakofi explained that the primary objective of the hearings was to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents.
Further, he said testimony will be heard from a number of witnesses who may have been affected, or had seen or had some knowledge on what had transpired on the fateful day.
<i>Source : BOPA</i>