By Siphiwe Sibeko
MALELANE, South Africa (Reuters) - 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 neighboring 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 meters (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)