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S.Africa probes double train crash

South Africa on Friday probed the cause of a double train crash near the capital Pretoria that sent at least 150 people to hospital, with authorities saying cable theft could have contributed to the accident.

“At the time of the accident, we were authorising our trains manually because of cable theft that happened in the early hours of the morning yesterday,” said Lillian Mofokeng, spokeswoman for the railway operator Metrorail.

“So we are not ruling out the contribution that cable theft (had). However we also do not want to speculate into the actual cause of the accident.”

The two passenger trains, packed with rush-hour commuters and school children, collided near Pretoria on Thursday hours after cable theft had forced a switch to manual operations.

The crash took place at around 7:10 am (0510 GMT) when a moving train rear-ended a stationary one on the same track.

The PRASA rail authority, which Metrorail falls under, yesterday highlighted the theft of cables used for signalling, either by people cashing in on the copper or by striking workers sabotaging the track.

The removal of the cable forced drivers to switch to manual operations, which require a control centre to tell drivers if a section of track is clear before they can proceed.

The stealing of cables to be flogged for money is a major problem in South Africa, affecting telecommunications, power supplies and rail transport.

In November, the police minister estimated the theft costs the country about five billion rand ($556 million, 407 million euros) a year.

Five victims of the crash remained hospitalised on Friday.

“So far we have four people still in hospital, five including the driver. He is still critical but stable,” said Mofokeng.

Medical workers said up to 350 people were examined after the crash and around 150 were taken to hospitals around Pretoria.

Travel on the line between the residential suburb of Kalafong and central Pretoria, which carries around 20,000 people daily, is still suspended.

Over 90 percent of commuter trains in South Africa date back to more than 50 years, the most recent dating from 1986.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions on Friday slammed the trains as “moving coffins”.

The network has been targeted for a major revamp, starting in 2015.