* Truck hit by train, cut in half
* Victims were farm workers
(Updates death toll, changes dateline)
By Siphiwe Sibeko
MALELANE, South Africa, July 13 A coal train
ploughed into a farm truck at a level crossing in South Africa
on Friday, cutting it in half and killing 24 workers on their
way to pick fruit - the latest tragedy to hit the country's
ageing rail network.
Regional police spokesman Joseph Mabusa said it appeared the
truck driver had miscalculated when crossing the track, leaving
his vehicle directly in the path of a freight train carrying
coal to neighbouring Mozambique.
"It is a very gruesome scene. Some bodies are without heads
and some without limbs. Forensic teams are still working on the
scene," he said.
The impact, at a rural rail crossing 400 km (250 miles) east
of Johannesburg, dragged the truck 200 metres (660 feet) down
the track, dismembering its occupants and making it hard for
forensic experts to say exactly how many people had been killed.
The truck driver survived the accident and was taken to
hospital along with at least 20 other victims, some of whom were
in a critical condition. He was expected to be charged with
culpable homicide, or even murder, local media reported.
State rail operator Transnet said the train was carrying
coal for export to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, but that
there was no derailment. South Africa is one of the world's
biggest coal exporters, and the line is a major transit route.
Nearly twelve hours after the incident, police investigators
were still combing the area for clues as workmen prepared to tow
away the mangled wreckage of the truck.
South Africa's government has announced plans to spend
billions of dollars on revamping the creaking railways in what
is the continent's biggest economy, although human error is
often to blame for the sporadic accidents that do occur.
Last year, a Cape Town minibus taxi driver was sentenced to
20 years in jail for killing 10 children in his vehicle when it
was hit by a train as he drove over railway lines while taking a
shortcut on the way to school.
(Additional reporting by Peroshni Govender; Writing by Ed
Cropley and Mark Heinrich)