Sunday, 23 October 2016

Cameroon Train Crash:Transport Minister Ordered Increase of Wagons, Bears Responsibility?

Since the occurrence of the Eseka train tragedy, in Cameroon several government ministers have been in the media trying to explain what must have happened, proposing solutions, but above all, trying to trade accusations and apportion blame.

Cameroon's Minister of Transport, Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o within 48 hours has made a series of declarations which can be described as contradictory and give the impression that he is trying to put the entire blame on the door steps of Cameroon Railway Cooperation Camrail.

The critical questions seem to be, how can a train that was supposed to transport 600 passengers finally carry  1336 of them? Why were some passengers following declarations from survivors not registered on the passenger manifest? Who gave instructions for 8 wagons to be added to the train? Could a railway line constructed in 1908 support the weight of the wagons?

At 1:00 pm Cameroon time, October 21 2015, the transport boss was on the Cameroon Radio, CRTV, with the following statement, explaining what measures government had taken following the collapse of a portion of the Douala Yaounde highway at Matomb. Mebe Ngo’o said:

“At the level of the Ministry and with regard to rail transportation, the capacities of the trains have been significantly reinforced. Train number 152 of 10:25 am from Yaounde to Douala and train number 153 of 14:45 pm from Douala to Yaounde have been equipped with additional 8 wagons which offered additional capacities of 680 places per train. 

In total we have 1336 places. I prescribed to Camrail, taken into consideration the situation to take special additional measures to increase the capacity of the train," the Minister is on record with that declaration.

Hours after the incident, the same Minister of Transport was on Radio France International, RFI,  denying giving any instructions to Camrail. Hear him:
"The increase in the number of wagons was on the bases of internal technical expertise. Let me precise that, it is not the first time that Camrail has increased its number of wagons. The Yaounde train station had been besieged by 2000 people who wanted to travel to Douala.  

The decision to increase the number of wagons was taken by Camrail officials. It is not the Minister who validates technical decisions at that level. The decisions are validated at the level of the railway company. 

It is not normal to look for a scapegoat at the level of the government. It is premature to establish who is responsible. Let us wait for investigations to clear the air," Mebe Ngo’o still on record declared.

While Camrail officials are yet of make an official statement on who actually gave instructions and why it was obeyed given the dangers involved, it is incomprehensible that a train which use to travel with 8 wagons, finds itself  pulling eight additional wagons. 

Worst of all with passengers not registered in the train's manifest as declared by some survivors of the crash.

A trainee construction Project manager at the Loughborough University in UK , Callistus Fonjong, who has described as extremely dangerous, the container that has been buried by Cameroonian authorities at Matomb, 

as a temporary measure to ease circulation between Douala and Yaounde, has raised similar and other questions in a statement.

“If a train conductor/driver is used to controlling for instance 5 wagons, it's not the same as controlling 13 wagons. A guy who drives a 7 ton vehicle would have difficulties driving a trailer. He needs special training and must pass a driving test to drive a trailer. So, you must verify if the train conductor has the appropriate license to drive a train with that number of wagons. They should investigate the last time he drove a train of that length. 

Secondly, when adding wagons, it needs extra work and expertise to BRACE the wagons. Brace is a kind of tool used to tight joints. Were the people/technicians who put the wagons together qualified to do it? They could be qualified, but did they actually knot or brace the connecting wagons properly? 

Again, were the right braces used to brace the wagons? If not, the wagons were not tight enough to guarantee the safety of the train. Finally were the rails constructed to carry that amount of load? What about the floor or the ground? Was it designed for that weight?" Fonjong questioned. There are indications that the number of deceased victims can be far more than the 70 advanced by the Cameroon authorities.

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