A former Locomotive Driver at Botswana Railways, Dikabelo Nawa, did not mince words on Thursday when he revealed that necessary precautions were not taken to avoid a train accident that claimed the lives of two crew members on December 10.
Nawa, who retired last year made the claims when interviewed by the Commissioners at the on-going Ministry of Transport and Communications Board of inquiry investigating circumstances leading to derailment of BR passenger train 0501/BD549.
Confident in his poise and not intimidated by the court-like atmosphere, Nawa was adamant that if precautionary measures were taken the derailment and subsequent loss of lives would have been averted.
The hearings, scheduled to run for five weeks, are currently being held in Mahalapye.
Narrating his journey to Lobatse from Mahalapye, which he undertook with the same locomotive that was involved in the accident, he said because of the earlier rains he suspected Bonwapitse River to be flooding. That is why he was on alert and kept looking outside to check if there was any flood water that could be troublesome.
“It was not raining. There was no water coming along the rail line. When I passed the Bonwapitse River it was okay. Then I passed the place where the derailment happened. The place is not a potential area for dangers but it had some pits where water can be trapped and settle. Fortunately, I passed the place up to Palla road and all the way to Lobatse,” he narrated.
Nawa’s calmness won the day as his immense knowledge on train operations and the systems of Botswana Railways made him a valuable witness.
The experienced driver lamented the conditions under which locomotive drivers work at Botswana Railways. He said there was continuous pressure from their bosses to always arrive on time regardless of the condition of weather or the state of the railway line.
“Even the Control Department will repeatedly warn that you are losing time,” he said, adding that this has resulted in some drivers throwing caution to the wind in order to get recognition from their superiors.
Nawa castigated Botswana Railways for occasionally instructing drivers to use freight locomotives which they know are not suitable for passenger trains.
“If my superiors tell me there is shortage of locomotives then there is no option but to use those availed to us. They usually claim that they have been advised by Engineering Department to instruct us to use goods locomotives on passenger trains. We (drivers) then follow instructions because I can’t question the Engineering Department,” he said.
Nawa denied being informed that the manufacturer of the locomotives had warned that if Botswana Railways used them for something outside freight then they would void the warranty on them. Asked if in his understanding was that there was negligence of some sort, Nawa was quick to answer in the affirmative.
He said it was evident that safety and monitoring standards at Botswana Railways are compromised and need an upgrade. “I have never seen an inspection trolley on the railway line in close to five years. Ever since I worked here I have never seen them. I only see them parked in Lobatse and Mahalapye,” he revealed.
According to Nawa, the current practice of carrying inspectors in the locomotive to monitor the railway line is ineffective. He told the Commission that the task should not be done by a driver or train man operating the train.
He recalled that they used to have patrol men who used to help during floods by alerting the control office of the situation well on time resulting in information reaching train drivers on time. He asked that the patrol men be re-introduced. When further asked if he was aware of a communiqué dated 4 December 2019 of the Botswana Meteorological service forecasting flooding in some areas before the day of the accident, Nawa denied knowledge of such.
He stressed that no communication reached him or his colleagues. He said the procedure was for the information to be placed in foreman’s notice boards in Lobatse and Mahalapye. “It was not there because the foreman always advices us on notices that come in,” he said.
Nawa made a passionate plea that measures be put in place to ensure that incidences of the kind be not repeated. He called for the reintroduction of an unannounced motor trolley.