JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A passenger train carrying people home after the holidays slammed into a truck in rural South Africa on Thursday, killing at least 12 people and injuring more than 260 others, the government said.
Authorities blamed the truck driver for allegedly trying to cross the tracks just ahead of the oncoming train, part of which burst into flames after the collision and forced passengers to hurriedly drag their luggage from the smoking wreck to a nearby road.
“The truck driver was taking chances. He thought that he was going to pass through,” Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi told journalists. “Little did he know that the train was going to hit him. That has cost a lot of lives.”
At least 12 people died and 268 were injured, four of them critically, said Maswanganyi. He indicated that the death toll could rise.
The train with 429 passengers aboard had been traveling from Port Elizabeth to the country’s commercial hub, Johannesburg.
Video shows part of the Shosholoza Meyl train in flames after the collision that occurred between the communities of Hennenman and Kroonstad in Free State province. The crash derailed half a dozen carriages, and power lines were damaged. A large vehicle was upside down beside a train carriage that appeared to have partly crushed another, smaller vehicle.
The truck driver emerged unscathed from the accident and the train driver and his assistant suffered minor injuries, said Mthuthuzeli Swartz, acting CEO of South Africa’s state-owned passenger rail agency.
Swartz told local media outlet eNCA that the truck towing two trailers was halfway across the track when it was hit by the train and dragged for 400 meters (1,300 feet).
“Human error” caused the accident, he said.
An investigation continued.