KWAZULU NATAL, South Africa – In a statement on Monday, The United National Transport Union (Untu) applauded the police for arresting an alleged “gang leader” of 11 years old for “inciting his friends to join him in jumping on to moving train wagons of Transnet Freight Rail when they are passing on the Northern line in KwaZulu-Natal”.
The accompanying footage is even more bizarre, showing small children treating the passing train like an amusement park ride, presumably because they’re bored. The train driver captured the footage of the small children waiting on the train tracks for him to pass so that they can jump on board.
The phenomenon is similar to examples of “train surfing” that have been common throughout South Africa for years despite it having claimed several lives of “thrill seekers”.
The children can be seen in the clips clinging to the side of the train after running to grab on to it, then jumping back off once they’ve had their fun.
One or two can even be seen dancing on the tracks as the train heads towards them.
The danger this poses, not to mention it being totally illegal, prompted the South African Police Service (SAPS) to step in and arrest the supposed ringleader, aged 11.
According to Steve Harris, general secretary of Untu, the boy was released into the care of his parents and they were warned to appear in court with him.
“The gang is creating a serious safety risk,” said Untu spokesperson Sonja Carstens.
Harris received four video clips of the gang playing on the train wagons, some of which you can watch for yourself in the video below.
The clips have been edited to remove clear footage of the children’s faces.
“The children take advantage of the fact that the trains on this route must keep to a speed restriction of 15km per hour as they are entering an area where pedestrians cross the railway line without looking or don’t realise the speed of the approaching train.”
According to the recent figures in the State of Rail Safety Report of the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) there had been 375 fatalities due to operational occurrences and 2,660 injuries due to operational occurrences in the previous financial year. At the same time there was a 36% increase in fatalities due to safety related occurrences, said Untu.
“Although Untu disputes this figure and believes it only reflects a fraction of the true state of rail safety, the statistics known to the RSR is a great concern,” said Carstens.
Harris said: “Parents must teach their children that it is no joke playing near a railway line, not even to mention a moving train. These children are not only putting their own lives at risk, but also the lives of the train driver and the train assistant as they are forced to watch the children playing on the wagons instead of keeping their eyes on the railway lines and on the signals they are passing.
“To make matters worse, it is the train driver and the train assistant who will be charged if anything happens to the children, putting their jobs in jeopardy. This is not even considering the emotional trauma the train driver and train assistant goes through if they cannot prevent an injury.
“It is unacceptable that the lawlessness in our country has become so bad that children think they can get away with this,” added Harris.
According to Harris, the RSR needed to target these areas to create awareness for train safety at schools and in local communities, and get the community to identify the specific children and speak to their parents.
He appealed to all Untu trains drivers to immediately report similar incidents to the union so that Untu could ensure that it was reported to the SAPS to act on.