Sikhumbuzo Moyo, Senior Reporter
THE Highway Code has an explicit instruction, “never argue with a train, you will never win the argument.”
However, the country continues to lose lives either through persons hurling themselves in front of oncoming locomotives in apparent suicides or fatal crashes at the rail/road level crossings.
From 2019 to 2021, the country had 47 suspected suicide deaths while from January this year to August there were 38 suspected suicide deaths, a figure that was described as very disturbing by the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ). Also from January to August this year, 66 accidents happened at rail level crossings, with a total of 54 injuries and six fatalities, according to the parastatal’s acting public affairs and stakeholder relations manager, Mr Martin Banda.
The increase in the number of accidents involving trains at rail level crossings prompted railway companies in the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) through the Southern African Railway Association (Sara) to set aside a week in October every year for public awareness campaigns on railway safety to curb accidents and fatalities.
This year the NRZ will join other railway companies in the region to commemorate Sara Railway Safety Week from October 9 to October 14.
The commemorations will focus on Rail/Road Level Crossing awareness under the theme, “Be vigilant around the tracks, trains are fast but slow to stop.” The Railway Safety Week is also meant to ensure that the region has a joint regional advocacy for railways safety practices which conform to the Sadc/Sara Railway Safety Standards.
Rail/road level crossings in the Sadc region have been scenes of many horrific accidents as vehicle drivers ignore traffic rules and try to beat trains at the intersections. “In Zimbabwe, the main Railway Safety Week activities will be held in Bulawayo in the middle of the most populous western suburb, the Luveve/Cowdray Park Rail/Road level crossing which is the busiest Rail/Road level crossing. There will be an expo during the week where NRZ and other partners will impart information on railway and road safety awareness to members of the public. The official launch of the week will be on October 13 at the Rail/Road level crossing on Luveve/Cowdray Park road where many deadly accidents have been reported,” said Mr Banda.
The Railways Safety Week, said the NRZ acting spokesperson, is expected to reduce railway sector incidents and accidents, reduce vandalism while protecting both railway and road infrastructure and safety equipment, promote the railway sector and its importance in the academic sector as well as to enhance support towards Sara Railway Safety Standards.Mr Banda said among the activities lined up for the Railway Safety Week are awareness campaigns on rail and road safety, education programmes, practical involvement of everyone, Safety Week procession and march and train ride for participants to and from Luveve/Cowdray Park Rail/Road level crossing.
“The NRZ is inviting members of the public, road users, transporters, regulatory and safety organisations, insurance companies and others to be part of the commemorations as there is a lot to learn on rail/road safety issues,” said Mr Banda.
The Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development, Felix Mhona, is expected to officially open this year’s commemorations.While Zimbabwe has recorded many fatalities on the rail/road level crossings, the major first recorded horror crash was on April 23, 1987 when 75 people died aboard a Ndamina Bus Company after the driver allegedly tried to beat the train at the Nyamandlovu rail level crossing.
There were only three survivors, all from one family. On March 20,1993, four Luveve High School leaners died, one of them on the spot, when a Northlea High School bus they were travelling on from a sports event at White City Stadium was hit by a goods train at the back.
The Nyamandlovu bus-train disaster prompted Government to order all Public Services Vehicles (PSV) to inscribe, at the back of the vehicles, a “Driver to Stop At Railway Crossing” sign. On its part, NRZ train drivers always hoot from a distance of about 1km and also 20 metres, before approaching all rail level crossings, as a warning to motorists and heavy transport drivers as well as public transport drivers to stop at rail level crossings.