The preliminary findings in the just ended Botswana Railways public inquiry into the accident involving the passenger train points to irregularities in the train’s radio communication system which was found to be ‘absolute’.
This was revealed by Botswana Railways Inquiry Chairman Olefile Moakofi (Chief Executive Officer of Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana) on Tuesday this week, marking the end of the two month long public inquiry that was conducted across the country since January 2020. Even though most of the train personnel interviewed by the inquiry subjected a gross negligence on the part of BR, the Inquiry Chairman on Tuesday pointed that a malfunction on the train communication system could have led to the derailment of train 0501/BD549 between Palla Road and Mahalapye on December 10, 2019 in which two BR crew members lost their lives.
The train derailed at around 2am December 9, near Palla Road. Heavy waters following heavy downpours in the area were fingered as the cause of the accident. The Ministry had set up an eight-man investigative board made of engineers and former BR employees to gather evidence. The inquiry came to an end on Tuesday evening and the team is now busy, working on the report. On Tuesday, Moakofi had told WeekendPost that so far one of the leading causes of the accident is the communication system which from which they cannot even retrieve any messages or communications leading to the fateful day.
Moakofi even though he did not want to pre-empt the report said some of their team members have travelled to South Africa to further the investigations. The radio communication networks are critical to train operations including stringent requirements for reliability, availability, safety and security for these operations. Different security measures are considered based on the assumption of transmission error or communication blackout in RSTT. In general, radio communication for railway operations are considered as “mission critical” for train operations in general and the management of train emergency situations.
Furthermore, railway radio communication systems require the support of legacy technology and to have a long life cycle. RSTT provide improved railway traffic control, passenger safety and improved security for train operations. These systems also provide for interoperability of train operations in some regions. After the accident, Minister of transport and Communications Thulagano Segokgo promised that he is going to set up an independent investigation team to get to the bottom of what could have caused the accident.
According to reports the new Minister was later advised by attorneys for Botswana Railways, that according to the BR Act where there are casualties, the President should institute a Commission of Inquiry. On the fateful day, 10th December 2019, the nation was awoken by bad news that Botswana Railways passenger train en-route to Francistown from Gaborone, was derailed near Bonwapitse River.
The Francistown-bound train carrying around 400 passengers broke down damaging the locomotive, luggage van, generator van, buffet car and four coaches. After the much talked about incident, many questions were raised on why Botswana Railways allowed the movement of trains when they were floods in Mahalapye and knowing that the railway line was not in good conditions. Briefing Parliament about the accident Minister Segokgo revealed that it has come to his attention that the rail coaches were not ensured and that the railway line is very old.
“The railway line was constructed initially before independence and it has been confirmed to me verbally that indeed we do not have insurance on the trains and it is a very disturbing matter which I am addressing at my ministry,” he said. Following the interviews, employees took turns in the hot seat and claimed serious malfunctions within the BR Management. They asserted that the malfunctions coupled with decrepit systems have always presented a ticking time bomb within the organisation.
The December 10 accident, they said, was a result of a toxic environment at their headquarters. They claimed that top management authorised movement of the train, despite their warnings of adverse weather conditions. At the time of going to press the Ministry of Transport and Communications did not respond to WeekendPost inquiry on the matter despite the Inquiry Chairman Moakofi having answered the questionnaire and forwarding to them as protocol dictates. The Ministry telephones rang unanswered the whole of Thursday while a message was relayed that the ministry’s spokesperson Oteng Mokowe was in Lobatse and will address to the WeekendPost inquiry.
The Minister of Justice, Machana Shamukuni says the search to appoint the Ombudsman and other critical heads of department is currently ongoing and the process is expected to be completed before end of the year.
The Ombudsman position fell vacant almost five months ago after Augustine Makgonatsotlhe was removed from the office and appointed as Ambassador to Kuwait.
Two Batswana nationals have been arrested in Zimbabwe for illegal trade in mercury. The duo is being held together with a Zimbabwean national who is being questioned by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).
This publication understands that the suspects who are aged between 39 and 56 years hail from Tutume and Selebi-Phikwe. At the time of the arrest, they were found in possession of a pistol, bomb motor and four live rounds. It is understood that the suspects told investigators during interrogation that the deadly substance has a lucrative market in Far East countries, where the demand is high. It is further reported that the suspects claimed that the mercury can be easily accessed in mines through middleman.
The Namibian Lives Matter Movement has weighed in on the looming border dispute between their country and Botswana.
Commenting on reports that the Namibian Parliament has dispatched a committee along the border between the two countries on fact finding mission, the group commended“the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, De-fence and Security that will engage community members living along the Namibia Botswana Border in conducting public hearings into acts of aggression and brutality by Botswana Defence (BDF) Force against innocent and unarmed Namibians.”