Botswana: Safety Not Ignored

Mahalapye — Botswana Railways (BR) did not disregard safety requirements in its decision to use a trainee driver on the day of last December's train accident, says the company's training instructor.

Mr Matthews Dikgang was testifying on January 20 before the board of enquiry into the train accident which claimed two lives.

He explained that the trainee driver, who was driving the train on the fateful day, was with an experienced instructor as should always be the case.

Quizzed on whether the trainee driver should have been made to drive given the bad weather prevailing on the day, he responded in the affirmative saying part of the training entailed being able to handle trains in different weather conditions.

He added that the trainee had in fact had exposure to and had driven both passenger and freight trains before, further pointing out that the learner driver was actually one train trip away from being qualified as an engine man.

The trainee had actually been qualified on goods trains and was on the brink of being qualified on passenger trains, he said.

When his opinion was solicited on whether it was wise to have a trainee haul a passenger train with a goods locomotive as powerful as a BD5, he observed that while the undertaking required a lot of experience, it was affording learners such opportunities that helped turn them into seasoned train drivers.

Contrary to evidence tendered by previous witnesses, the instructor said there was nothing wrong with using BD5s for passenger hauling, save for the fact that the locomotives' massive power would be under-utilised on account of the minimal weight that passenger hauling entailed.

On another issue, he said it was likely the train had been running at a speed of between 30 and 40 kilometres per hour at the time it derailed.

Had it been doing a higher speed, Mr Dikgang explained, the wagons could have piled up and not just tumbled over when the accident occurred.

As to whether the trainee driver had been taken through a first aid course, Mr Dikgang said he did not know as BR did not offer it in-house.

The second witness of the afternoon, Ms Nanika Moeng, a Mahalapye-based occupational health officer, said for the whole of last year, the BR clinic had not received any first aid boxes from passenger trains for refilling.

Ordinarily, she said, at the beginning of each year, the clinic opened a first aid register where boxes arriving for replenishing were recorded but for last year, no such register was opened for passenger trains as no boxes were brought.

Ms Moeng said since her duties did not include going into trains to physically check the first aid boxes, she was not in a position to say if they were there on the train that derailed or in the event they were there, she would not know whether the drugs they contained had not expired.

She told the board that she was not informed of the accident but learnt of it from communication on a Whatsapp group for BR employees on the morning of December 10.

It was not the first time she had not been directly informed that an accident had occurred, she said.

However, Ms Moeng observed that had she been informed of the accident soon after it happened, she could have had a challenge going to the scene as the clinic did not have an ambulance.

She pointed out that for all the years she had worked at the clinic since 1991, the facility had not had an ambulance despite her continued efforts to have it included in the annual budget.

The public inquiry, which is set to continue for about four more weeks, follows last year's train accident in which BR lost two of its employees.

Source : BOPA

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