All victims of accidents at level crossings -- whether in a car or otherwise -- were themselves at fault, said the Western Cape’s provincial minister for transport and public works, Robin Carlisle.
He spoke to The New Age on Tuesday in the wake of yet another accident at a level crossing -- this time, Cameron Henry, 26, died in Blackheath after being hit by a train while crossing the railway line.
The MEC, often blunt in his remarks, said that “one thing common to all of these incidents is that it was the victim’s fault”, pointing to reports that the man who died on Monday was apparently listening to music on a pair of headphones at the time.
The man died after being struck by a train a few hundred metres from the Buttskop level crossing at Blackheath, bringing the toll of people who have died at railway crossings over the past two years to about 15, said Carlisle’s head of ministry, Hector Eliott.
Carlisle called the death “a tragedy” and “as in all other cases, completely unnecessary”.
Eliott agreed that it was the state’s responsibility to ensure an adequate level of protection but the minister said that while the key solution would be to build overpasses and underpasses to replace the boom system at all level crossings, his department did not have the resources to do this.
The latest incident came on the day when Carlisle himself -- on the way to work in the Steenberg area at about 8.30am on Monday – noticed that a boom at the White Road level crossing had been damaged by a bakkie a few minutes earlier.
He told The New Age that he got out the car at the level crossing and, with the two policemen assigned to escort him when he travels, fixed the boom.
A witness then gave him the details of the offending car’s number plate and a cellphone number for the business that owned the car.
He then spent much of the morning tracing the vehicle’s owner and the driver before laying a charge at Kirstenhof police station for malicious damage to property and reckless or negligent driving.
At least seven people have died in the past four months in Cape Town at level crossings, either in a vehicle or on foot. The MEC and his head of ministry were silent on what steps would be taken to enhance the security of the boom system in the interim to increase public protection, by making them more impenetrable.
They said it was the responsibility of the public to ensure their safety at these dangerous crossings.
On August 25, 10 children died when a vehicle transporting children was hit by a train at the Blackheath railway crossing.
The driver is facing 10 murder charges.
Carlisle and Eliott both pointed to earlier incidents where investigations had found, for example, that a victim of a train collision at a level crossing in Stellenbosch had overtaken several other cars before moving on to the railway tracks, while talking on a cellphone, and then being hit by an oncoming train.
They insisted that it was “absolutely right” that the state take steps to protect road users but insisted that little could be done in cases of negligence.
About five or six people a year died at level crossings in the province, said Carlisle, adding that these deaths occurred amid an overall average of about 1500 deaths on the province’s roads every year.
The minister has been making increasingly loud noises about drunk drivers endangering the lives of others as well as themselves and said his department would be accelerating efforts –such as roadblocks, strategically placed near venues known for excessive alcohol consumption –to reduce road deaths.
The immediate target was to halve the number of road deaths in the province to about 750 people by 2014, Carlisle said.
Meanwhile, there were two accidents about three hours apart on the R44 in Stellenbosch yesterday morning that left about 40 people injured – on a stretch of road that Carlisle had already identified as being highly dangerous.
He said his department had plans to close all the haphazardly-built side roads – some built by local landowners – on the R44 and to widen the road with channels that would allow for orderly and safe U-turns for cars wishing to stop at the shops.