Special trains could alleviate road pressure, and improve transport safety at big events such as the Easter pilgrimage to Moria, three researchers found.
Transport safety researchers have focused on Hajj in Mecca, and KumbhMela in India, as the two biggest religious mass gatherings (MG) in the world. However the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) hosts 12-million pilgrims every Easter weekend at Zion City Moria, write Mabila Mathebula, Prof John Smallwood, and Dr Cornel Malan in a joint paper on the complementary role of rail transportation towards the reduction of road accidents in South Africa during the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) Easter pilgrimage, presented at the 2017 ICSTTE conference in Hong Kong.
At Easter, the N1 highway from Johannesburg. and the R101 road from Pretoria, are highly congested.
Is there an alternative transportation mode to buses, minibus taxis and cars? According to the Green Paper on National Rail Policy, South Africa has taken a firm decision to make rail a preferred mode of transportation.
The ZCC should adopt the Saudi Arabian approach to introducing pilgrimage trains. Deregulation has rendered railway transport in South Africa uncompetitive, however rail could complement road in an intermodal approach during big events.
No study in South Africa has been conducted on health and safety of pilgrims, despite the massive numbers, on a weekend when many other road users also use the highways.
Vilakazi (2008) observes that South Africa is overwhelmingly rural, and indeed pilgrims come from all areas beyond and along the routes, and from neighbouring states.
May commercial buses have been designed without seatbelts. Papanek (2000) argues that “industrial design has put murder on a mass-production basis, by designing criminally unsafe automobiles that kill or maim nearly one million people around the world each year.”
The big event road transport safety problem
The ZCC hosts more pilgrims than Mecca and the Vatican City combined. It does not have a history of stampedes in its 107 years of existence, however 719 pilgrims died and 800 were injured during a stampede at the Hajj in Mecca, a week after a crane collapse there (Mbhele 2015).
After the stampede, Saudi Arabia was under international pressure to improve the safety of pilgrims.
Research has shown that the death of pilgrims on the road is ubiquitous. The ZCC has suffered spate of road accidents. In 2011, eleven people died when a bus plunged 40 meters down an embankment on George’s Valley Road outside Tzaneen (Maponya, 2010).
Ten people died and 45 were injured when a bus lost control on the N1 in Polokwane after a church service (Mashaba 2011).
In 2016, ten members died in a bus crash at George’s Valley Road outside Haenesburg near Tzaneen on a Sunday afternoon (Matlala 2016).
Seven Wits University students died en route from a ZCC prayer service in 2016 (Lekganyane 2016).
South Africa reportedly has one of the worst road accident rates in the world (International Transport Forum on Road Safety Annual Report, IRTAD 2013). There were 28 fatalities per 100 000 people in 2011.
The economic cost of South Africa’s road vehicle accidents is estimated at 307-b per year (IRTAD 2013).
Rail transport safety issues
Rail transport in South Africa is comparatively more safe than road transport, but glaringly uncompetitive. The South African rail industry is in decline due to ageing; deteriorating or obsolete infrastructure and rolling stock; perceived under-utilisation of parts of the rail network; capital investment backlog; and shortage of specialised skills (SA Department of Transport 2015).
According to Chauke and Maluleke (2005) these factors contributed to the decline of rail transport internationally:
- Growing competition from more advanced aircraft and vehicles.
- Monolithic industry structures.
- Rigid management structures, unresponsive to customer needs and market opportunities.
- Outdated technology, obsolete rolling stock.
- A shift away from bulk commodities towards high value products, requiring quality handling and timely delivery.
The Green Paper on National Rail Policy said raid should reposition its future roles for passengers and freight, including quality, efficiency, volume, price, and intermodalism.
Botha (2005: 2) referred to the State of Logistics Survey by the CSIR: “South Africa’s transport problems are far worse than expected… various documents have warned about the negative effects that inadequate transport infrastructure exert on the country‘s ability to generate sustained economic growth.”
According to the Canadian Center for Sustainable Transportation (2001), a sustainable transportation system offers:
- basic access to individuals and society
- safe and consistent with human and ecosystem health and equity between generations
- affordable, efficient, choice of mode
- support to a vibrant economy
- low emissions and waste
- minimal consumption of non-renewable resources
- re-use and recycling of its components
- minimal use of land
- low noise.
The church and the state could work together to apply intermodalism, for the collective good of the ZCC pilgrimage.
Road-centric planning affects transport safety
Car ownership in South Africa is at the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12%. According to the 2013 International Transport Forum Road Safety Annual Report, the vehicle fleet in South Africa had doubled in the last 20 years.
From 1990 to 2011, the number of road fatalities have increased by 25%. Pilgrims and other road users suffer hours of congesting delays. The road system creaks under the strain during the pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage involves travel as part of a spiritual journey. It is not guaranteed to be any safer than secular travel. In 2015 in Nigeria, 84 South African pilgrims died at the Nigerian Church of All Nations. About two million people attended an annual religious festival in Ethiopia at the end of the rain season, where 52 people were crushed to death in a stampede as police dispersed the crowd (Withnall 2016).
Al Mashaer Al Mugaddassah Metro MMM (SL)
According to the Saudi Railway Commission (2014), Al Mashaer Al Mugaddassah Metro is designed to transport the high volume of pilgrims safely and efficiently between Arafat, Muzdalifah, Mina and Jamarat. The line is 18 km, including 14.5 of elevated section, and 9 stations.
The system includes safety for:
- bi-directional train movement
- moving block systems and computer based interlocking
- Enforced train separation
- Point locking, such that a point is proved to be locked, and cannot be moved when a train is approaching over a set of points
- Train speed limit automation
- Train door control at the correct stopping position.
ZCC Moria train plan for transport safety
The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) bought new trains, most manufactured locally; and is refurbishing some coaches, while modernising stations and signalling.
Part of the PRASA (2010) strategy is a Limpopo Passenger Rail Plan, including:
- development nodes and major transport corridors
- demand modelling
- analysis of the current rail network
- corridors where rail could support the passenger demand
- corridors that could use current infrastructure
- new infrastructure development
- rail freight opportunities to enhance rail passenger operations
- efficiency and cost impact of current road based passenger services
- prioritising these various proposals.
One of the options under investigation includes the line Polokwane -Mankweng –Moria. Phase A could be 26km (city and residential areas), 25 kV AC traction, double railway at R3726-m, passenger trips 60 000 to Polokwane.
Phasee B, Mankweng –Moria could be 12km (residential areas, hilly), at R233-m, passenger trips 10 000 to Polokwane.
Only trains have this much capacity
In Arabia, the Hajj is already essentially intermodal. Pilgrims fly from all over the world to Saudi Arabia to perform this Fifth Pillar of Islam. Each country is required to adhere strictly to the quota system with the view to assisting the Saudi Arabian government to their planning process.
Al Mashaer Al Mugaddassah Metro Southern Line was designed to transport 72 000 passengers per hour, to and from their supplications at various locations. The line was not designed to compete with buses and cars but to complement them.
ZCC Moria does not have a quota system. It is a one stop location, not rotational. The major challenge is the density of buses, taxis and cars on the R71 road near Moria.
It would be impossible for buses over 18km to transport 72 000 passenger per an hour, only a train can do that.
According to Zohar and Marshall (2000), “being holistic (a term coined by former SA prime minister Jan Smuts) is a tendency to see the connection between diverse things.” Taxi and bus companies should redefine their mission as transport, not running buses and taxis.
Thus aircraft and trains should be part of their service, freeing buses and taxis from congestion at the destination, enabling other routes.
The Mankweng -Moria proposed railway line would help to transport thousands of pilgrims into and out of Moria, thus making Polokwane the intermodal hub.
In the long run, safe railways at bottleneck points, will help to make roads safer. All modes of transport should operate in a synergy to enable transport safety.
Transport safety recommendations
In his submission to the TRC in 1985, His Divine Grace Bishop BE Lekganyane said: “In 1959 Bishop Edward built a primary school in Moria, for the area at large… In 1969 the church realised the acute lack of transport in Pietersburg and its rural areas… a bus company was established. Until 1985 the company received no subsidy and ran at a loss. The church felt that the needs of the community were above [the cost], and continued to run the company from its own coffers.”
The church had to enter transport business to uplift its members and the community. We recommend that:
- ZCC and Limpopo provincial government study Saudi Arabia’s Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro Southern Line;
- Consider a Public Private Partnership (PPP) for building and managing the Moria area line and train services;
- National rail policy in South Africa should take into account religious needs;
- Taxi and bus operators diversify into intermodal services;
- PRASA should consider investing in the ZCC area rail;
- Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) should consider extending existing railway lines to Zion City Moria.
Several rail transport safety functions should be factored in:
- Trains and the platform designed with a narrow gap.
- Enforced train separation.
- Point locking, such that a point cannot be moved when a train is approaching over it.
- Train speed limit automation.
- Train door control at the correct stopping position.
This report is an extract from a full and referenced paper, titled: The complementary role of rail transportation towards the reduction of road accidents in South Africa during the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) Easter pilgrimage, presented at the 2017 ICSTTE conference in Hong Kong, by Mabila Mathebula, Prof John Smallwood, and Dr Cornel Malan.
Mathebula is a doctoral student in the Department of Construction Management at Nelson Mandela Metro University in Port Elizabeth.
Prof Smallwood heads the department.
Dr Malan heads Operational Planning and Intelligence at the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR).