Thursday, October 29, 2020

Learner driver in fatal train accident trained at non-BQA-accredited school

Against the precise dictates of the Botswana Qualifications Authority Act (BQA), the Botswana Railways (BR) has been quietly using a training facility that has not been accredited by BQA itself.

Sunday Standard learns that the trainee enginewoman who was driving a passenger train that derailed on November 29 last year, killing two crew members, was part of a batch of trainees that spent three months at BR’s training centre in Francistown. The latter is a badly dilapidated hand-me-down facility from the National Railways of Zimbabwe which BR didn’t invest enough in.

Ever since the establishment of BQA, it is a requirement by law that all training programmes should be registered with BQA and that all programmes offered at institutions are registered with the Authority. Likewise, assessors and moderators should also be registered with BQA.

BR’s train crews have historically been trained at the Francistown training centre and Sunday Standard learns that while the use of this facility has not been as consistent as it was in the past, some staff members have trained at it outside of what the law prescribes. It further learns that as part of their training for the Certificate in Engineman course, the latest enrollees spent three months at the Francistown centre last year.

To be clear, the course has itself been accredited by BQA and appears on the list of courses that BR offers. However, according to BQA’s Communications and Public Relations Manager, Selwana Pilwate-Koppenhaver, “the BR Training Centre in Francistown is not in the register.” Educational institutions that are in the register are those that fully comply with BQA requirements and on such basis, have been authorised to provide instruction. Pilatwe-Koppenhaver further reveals that the centre has not been audited. Such audit would have been in service of ensuring that it complies with the BQA Act.

On December 19 last year, one of the people enrolled for the Certificate in Engineman course was in the driver’s seat of north-bound passenger train. The train derailed just before Mahalapye, killing a trainman and permanent way inspector who were also in the locomotive compartment. Following the accident, the government has appointed a board of enquiry and during a hearing last week, one board member highlighted the oddity of BR’s learner drivers being put in charge of passenger trains when that never happens with buses because of the risk element.

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