Every day in South Africa, over 2.4 million passengers rely on Metrorail to get them to their destinations.
Sadly, train accidents have become a common occurrence in this country. Train-related incidents, including collisions, derailments, platform change incidents and commuter accidents, cost South Africa just over R400 million per year. They can also significantly impact people’s lives.
In July 2015, a train collision between Booysens and Crown left 239 people injured, making international news headlines.
Expressing his concern at the number of train accidents in South Africa, Gauteng Premier David Makhura said, “These accidents should be avoided at all cost and we urge PRASA [Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa] to take all necessary precautions to ensure that passengers reach their destinations safely and alive.”
Why train accidents are common
In August, when PRASA released preliminary findings about yet another train accident, this time in the Northern Cape, it said that train accidents in South Africa are largely preventable. So why do they still happen?
Apparently, human error and poor communication are often to blame. In the case of the Northern Cape accident between Modderivier and Heuningneskloof, a new speed limit wasn’t properly communicated by Transnet Freight Rail to PRASA – or, it seems, the train drivers. This is why the driver in question was going at 81 kilometres per hour in what had been changed to a 30-kilometre zone. The driver also didn’t notice the new speed sign.
Politicians, such as Freedom Front Plus spokesperson Pieter Swart, again commented on the findings. “Maintenance is so poor that cracked rails, broken wheels lead to many of those accidents. Training is also very poor; this should be redressed to prevent further loss of life,” said Swart.
If it happens to you: what you should do first
If you’re involved in a train-related accident, your first priority should be getting proper medical care.
Depending on the nature and scale of the accident, emergency services may be called to the scene. If this is the case, allow a trained medic to evaluate your condition. Sometimes shock can prevent you from realising the severity of an injury, and it’s best to make use of the immediate care that’s available.
If an injury you’ve sustained didn’t seem to need medical attention straight after the incident but has worsened over time, visit a doctor or an emergency room for a proper examination as soon as possible. Describe what occurred during the accident, what physical symptoms you’re experiencing and how they’re affecting you as clearly as possible.
Protecting your legal rights
A service provider such as Metrorail is legally required to take reasonable steps to keep commuters safe. This includes keeping trains and all rail infrastructure in a safe condition.
If you can prove that an accident was a result of negligence, you may have a successful personal injury claim against the service provider. This applies whether the accident occurred on a train or platform, or during boarding, travel or disembarking.
If you, or a family member you’re financially dependent upon, has been injured, the proceeds from a successful claim could help cover your medical expenses, including previous and future hospital costs, as well as any loss of earnings or earning capacity. You may also be awarded damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenities of life.
To protect your legal rights after a train-related incident, follow these guidelines:
- don’t speak to the train company’s representatives or sign any statements immediately after the incident; sometimes injuries aren’t fully apparent for some days after an initial trauma
- don’t discuss the incident with the press – you may inadvertently say something potentially damaging to your case in the immediate aftermath of the traumatic event
- don’t discuss the incident on social media platforms; like statements you make to the press, anything you say on platforms like Facebook could be used against you in the event of a legal claim
- don’t wait too long before contacting an attorney; a personal injury case has to be initiated within a specific time limit
- keep all relevant documents and medical records pertaining to your loss or injury.
If you want to make a personal injury claim against Metrorail, keep in mind that the claims process can be complicated. This is because proving negligent conduct on the part of the rail service provider can be an involved process, sometimes requiring analysis and reconstruction by qualified expert witnesses.