By Catherine Sasman
The panel of investigation into the derailment of the TransNamib train 2702 just south of Windhoek in August last year found that the accident was due to a brake failure.
The investigation, which took about eight months, concluded that the train gained momentum due to the weight of its load and the steepness of the decline resulting in the derailment at the 262.4 kilometre mark between the Kruin and Gammams stations between 20h00 and 20h20.
Chairperson of the panel, Philip Ellis, of Ellis & Partners law firm, yesterday said the driver, Sydney Coetzee, informed the radio control clerk in Windhoek that he could not find the braking on the train and that he had tried everything to brake to no avail.
Coetzee died as a result of the accident and the driver assistant, George Sankandi, sustained serious injuries from which he has since recovered.
The investigation started on September 24 last year and heard the evidence of 19 witnesses.
It also instructed an expert from South Africa, Willem Voster, to conduct simulations of the train’s handling over the relevant section in order to assist in determining the extent of the braking power available to the train on that fateful day.
Investigations were held in loco (on the spot) and recorded the scene photographically, reported Ellis.
Tests were conducted by constructing similar configurations on a similar train.
Ellis said shortly after the accident, the wheels of the locomotive were extremely hot and the smell caused by the friction of the locomotive wheels against the brake blocks was still hanging in the air.
“In sharp contrast to the locomotive, the wheels of all the wagons on the scene were cold and at atmospheric temperature, ” said Ellis, adding: “The train relied solely on the braking power of the locomotive while descending down the section Kruin to Gammams.”
The brakes failed because the vacuum pipe between the locomotive and the first wagon was not connected at the time of the accident, causing the wagon brakes to be inoperative.
“The failure to connect the vacuum pipe between the locomotive and the first wagon was due to an oversight and remained undetected until such time as the train started gaining momentum on the decline,” Ellis said.
Thereafter, he said, it was impossible to stop the train, and the derailment was “inevitable”.
Ministry of Labour Health Inspector, Ileni Shikwambi, said it was regrettable that the report took such a long time to complete, whereupon Ellis responded that the investigation took as long as it should have to get to the bottom of the causes of the accident.
Chief Executive Officer of TransNamib, Titus Haimbili, said because the rail network is old and has deteriorated over time, an upgrading needs to be done in tandem with the Ministry of Works and Transport.
TransNamib General Manager of the Engineering Division, Matty Hauuanga, said the 17 Chinese trains currently in operation have a capacity of 120 kilometres per hour, but due to the rail infrastructure, trains are forced go at a speed of 60 kilometres per hour, or in some places even slower.
The 17 red trains were purchased from a Chinese manufacturer at US$1.1 million each.
The blue Chinese prototype trains, purchased in 2004 at US$900??????’??