ArcelorMittal Suspects Human Error Responsible for Head-on Collision in Nimba

SANNIQUELLIE, Nimba – ArcelorMittal has expressed regrets over the Friday morning head-on collision involving two of the company’s locomotives near Ganta, Nimba that left 14 persons injured.

Close to midnight on May 21, two of the mining company’s locomotives collided and damaged several wagons and a portion of the railroad. One engine was traveling from Yekepa with iron ore, while the other was traveling from Buchanan without any load.

An eyewitness recounted being awakened by the sound of the collision of the two engines. Wilson Z. Kollie, 42, told The Bush Chicken that community members immediately rushed to the site to help rescue women and children on the trains. It took almost four hours before an ambulance could arrive to transport the victims to the Ganta United Methodist Hospital.

“I saw people who were badly hurt,” Kollie explained. “I saw a lady whose hands and legs appeared broken. We helped to take the wounded from the train and provided care until the ambulance came at about 4 a.m. The white man who was on the train from Buchanan also was wounded.”

While derailments and trains hitting pedestrians occur once in a while, Kollie said it was rare to hear of head-on collisions between two locomotives.

“About two weeks ago, one of our brothers was killed by a train right [at] the same spot the two trains made the accident, but to see two trains hitting each other is very strange,” he said. “Maybe the people did not communicate before putting the trains on the track.”

In a press statement issued on Sunday, May 23, the company said the collision was the first of its kind in the 12 years it has conducted rail operations in Liberia. ArcelorMittal said it had begun a detailed investigation to determine the actual cause of the accident; however, initial indications suggest that human error, rather than mechanical failures, was likely the cause of the collision.

The company did not explain in detail how the human error resulted in the accident. It further said there was no serious damage to the environment or the underlying trackbed due to the accident.

ArcelorMittal said it discovered that there were ten unauthorized passengers collectively aboard both trains when the collision occurred. They sustained minor injuries and were provided immediate medical care by the company, it added.

A damaged portion of one of the trains involved in the collision. Photo: Jerry Myers

“AML’s regulations and safety procedures prohibit civilians from traveling on AML trains, which are used strictly for transportation of iron ore,” the company noted. “The civilians involved in the accident sustained minor injuries and were provided immediate medical care by the company. Seven of them have already been released from the hospital, and three remain under observation.”

The company said four crew members were on the two trains, of which two sustained fractures and are being cared for at a hospital in Monrovia. The other two crew members whose injuries were less severe were immediately admitted to ArcelorMittal’s private hospital in Yekepa, Nimba. One has already been discharged, while the other remains under observation by medical personnel.

The company announced that the accident has temporarily impacted its rail operations, but said recovery teams had been mobilized: “The rail hardware is being inspected by the company’s engineers, who are working to restore operations back to normal as soon as possible, taking all necessary safety and COVID-19 precautions for employees, the local community and the environment.”

Less than a year ago, another accident occurred along the railway. On June 13, 2020, an ArcelorMittal locomotive carrying 66 wagons partially derailed in Zuluyee, Nimba (about 205 kilometers from the port of Buchanan) while transporting ores from Mount Tokadeh. The company was forced to suspend rail operations because of the derailment.

Featured photo by Jerry Myers

Jerry Myers

Jerry T. Myers, Jr. is a student of the Nimba County Community College, studying Natural Resource Management. Since 2008, Jerry has worked in the media sector, including at the Voice of Tappita community radio station, ELBC Radio, Radio Nimba, and New Public Trust Media Group. He is the current secretary-general of the Nimba Community Radio Association and a full member of the Press Union of Liberia.

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