Today, 25 August 2011, it is one year since the tragic events that took place at the Buttskop level crossing in Blackheath. And yet yesterday we were rocked by yet another senseless tragedy claiming the lives of 16 of our precious children in Knysna. I am glad therefore to have some positive news.

Within two months of Buttskop, I ordered the establishment of the Level Crossing Task Team from the road and rail authorities in the Province. Since then, the team, under the leadership of my Head of Ministry, Hector Eliott, has quietly gone about its work of seeking solutions to the risks posed by the Province’s level crossings.

Almost all deaths at level crossings are caused by motorist behaviour, and no solution is possible without changing the way people behave when they get behind the wheel. The Task Team’s mandate was not to replace road safety initiatives like Safely Home, but to focus on how safety levels could be improved.

A year later and the Task Team has been the glue that has brought together a number of initiatives – some new, some old – which promise a safer future.

Key to a sustainable solution is a uniform standard for analysing risk and applying an appropriate and standardised level of protection. The Rail Safety Regulator, in the person of Nico de Jager, who has been working closely with the Task Team since January this year, will be submitting a new risk analysis model for level crossings, along with updates to legislation on risk modelling and protection levels for public comment within the next two months, once SABS approval is obtained. This model is reportedly being feted as far afield as Australia.

While the regulatory framework and its regular application is critical, innovation always has its part to play. In this spirit, the Task Team partnered with Syntell to establish a pilot CCTV operation. The pilot was set up at White Road level crossing, which is ranked as number two in the top six most dangerous crossings in the Province, as identified by the Task Team, and which is next to Syntell’s offices. The aim was to create a simple and sustainable solution that could be applied to any crossing without customisation or excessive expense. With this goal in mind, we are now trialling our third camera model and will continue to strive towards perfection.

At the end of the day however, nothing is safer than eliminating the danger point entirely. When the right combination of safety and mobility factors come together, ultimate solutions are possible. It is thus with enormous gratitude to my Department’s Roads Branch and to Metrorail Western Cape that I am able to announce today that we will together be eliminating seven level crossings, including numbers one and three as ranked by the Task Team as the most dangerous in the Province.

In June next year, we will be breaking ground on the re-alignment of Vlaeberg Road to a new point on the R304. A bridge will be constructed over the railway line, and the Vlaeberg level crossing, where four people were killed in January 2007 and which is currently ranked the second most dangerous crossing in the Province, will be closed and become a thing of the past. The existing service road will be surfaced, allowing us to eliminate a further four small crossings right next to the R304, including the Lynedoch crossing. The project will also see the R304 substantially upgraded. Environmental approval is expected before the end of 2011, and we will go to tender early in 2012.

Following close on the heels of the R304 upgrade and the elimination of Vlaeberg and Lynedoch will be a new project, currently in the inception phase, which will see Koelenhof, currently ranked the most dangerous crossing in the Province, eliminated, along with the smaller Elsenburg crossing. A bridge is to be built on Bottelary/Kromme Rhee Road over the railway line, with pedestrian access below.

While we are a poor country and can never live in a perfect world, with the right will we can find ways to create solutions that drive economic activity, enhance people’s lives and keep people safe.

Source: Department of Transport and Public Works