The Road Freight Association has hit back at NNP MP Johann Durand’s accusations that tankers are “weapons of mass destruction” on South Africa's roads. But the KZN Department of Transport is also concerned about the large number of accidents involving trucks.

The Road Freight Association (RFA) has hit back at NNP MP Johann Durand’s accusations that tankers are “weapons of mass destruction” on South Africa's roads. But the KZN Department of Transport is also concerned about the large number of accidents involving trucks.

Durand said last week that vehicles carrying dangerous chemicals were “ticking time bombs” and the products should rather be transported by rail.

"After the recent spate of accidents involving vehicles transporting dangerous chemicals, their potential to become weapons of mass destruction on wheels is clear," he said.

Earlier this month, a petrol tanker exploded on the N1 highway in Pretoria after slamming into a stationary bakkie in the emergency lane of the N1 highway near the Lynnwood offramp. Another tanker burst into flames in Pretoria after overturning at a traffic circle in Queenswood.

In KwaZulu-Natal this month, more than 60 000 litres of petrol burst into flames when a tanker crashed into a broken-down truck near Umzinto. It was estimated that the blaze caused damage worth about R3-million. Earlier in the month, a tanker bound for Port Shepstone lost thousands of litres of paraffin after a valve seal broke on the container.

RFA chief executive Herman Lemmer said that the transportation of dangerous materials would always receive harsh criticism from government and the public. However, he said, it was unfair to imply that there was a lack of control and discipline within the transport industry with regards to the transportation of chemicals.

“It is not as bad as it seems to be. Unfortunately, a few incidents occurred over a short period of time and so the subject has come under the spotlight,” said Lemmer.

Lemmer said more loads were being transported by road because Spoornet did not offer a better solution: “Rail cannot necessarily respond to customer demands. Their distribution network is not sufficient enough and there is no guarantee that a train won’t derail or spill, either.”

KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport spokesman Thabang Chiloane told CARtoday.com all provincial departments were looking at ways of moving cargo transportation off roads and on to rail. “The deadline for provincial plans is February next year.

“All heavy vehicles are killing our roads. We want to encourage rail transport, but we know there will be some resistance as roads are faster than rail. We do not use rail enough.

“We have to do something. The spills cause a hazard on the roads, they seep into the ground and can be inhaled. But it’s not just about the spills, the roads are taking a knock and must be protected. One kilometre of good blacktop costs about R3-million. It’s expensive and we must preserve it,” said Chiloane.

Lemmer said although there were measures in place to maximise safety when transporting dangerous chemicals, the real problem lay with the traffic authorities. “More than a thousand traffic officials have already been trained to handle dangerous goods incidents. However, whether this is effectively handled is questionable,” said Lemmer. “A task group should be appointed to address law enforcement in general.

“A manual on emergency response capabilities of local authorities will be compiled shortly,” he said.

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