Prasa won't be able to provide a reliable service, says railway group boss

May 24, 2021.PRASA Group CEO Zolani Matthews inspecting Kliptown Train Station in Soweto vandalised during covid-19 lockdown.
May 24, 2021.PRASA Group CEO Zolani Matthews inspecting Kliptown Train Station in Soweto vandalised during covid-19 lockdown.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

Passenger Rail Agency of SA CEO Zolani Matthews says he is not confident that the railway group can provide a reliable service in the coming financial year.

Matthews was speaking at the release of the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) state of safety report on Wednesday, which highlighted the crime and safety issues faced by the embattled railway sector.

“The mainline passenger train service has not been operating as efficiently due to a lack of adequate locomotives to do that. We hope that over the course of the next 12 months we begin a service and it will not be a full service,” he said.

“We will gradually build that up if we have enough capacity, we also are concerned with our ability to offer a reliable continuous service that is on time and that commuters can trust, so we are not going to rush this process because we want to ensure we can provide a sustained service not just on mainline but on all corridors in all regions.”

The RSR report said there were decreased levels of safety incidents in general but this was because of a limited movement of trains over the past financial year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Theft of assets contributed a total of 79% to the overall security-related Incidents recorded during the 2020/21 reporting period. The number of theft of assets recorded in 2020/21 is 11% lower compared to the 2019/20 reporting period, but 108% higher than 2013/14 and 60% higher since 2010/11,” read the report.

“Although there was a 19% reduction in reported security-related incidents in 2020/21, this, however, resulted in a 31% overall year-on-year increase in security-related incidents when normalised per million train km, given the reduced traffic.”

In the 2020/21, 20 fatalities and 20 injuries were attributed to level crossing occurrences. This was the lowest amount of level crossing occurrences recorded since 2010/11.

Transnet Freight Rail CEO Sizakele Mzimela said they saw a peak of crime and safety challenges after the hard lockdown in 2020 lifted.

“As soon as we started moving to level 3, 4 and so forth we started to see an increase in the number of incidents of theft and vandalism. In the last five years we have seen an increase of 177% in terms of theft and vandalism which has had a significant impact on our ability to be able to move the critical export volumes that the country requires us to be exporting,” she said.

Mzimela said they have 300 incidents of cable theft a month and this increases to 600 incidents a month when including theft of infrastructure such as signalling systems. Transnet has spent in excess of R1.6bn in the last year to put more feet on the ground to tackle crime.  

“We have increased our use of technology like drones and have had to increase the amount of people on the ground that has led to a significant increase on how much security is costing us as an organisation,” said Mzimela. 

In May, minister of transport Fikile Mbalula went on an inspection tour with Prasa executives in Soweto to see the extent of the damage done due to theft and vandalism over the past year.

At the Kliptown station in Soweto, the roof was missing and all copper and cables were stripped from the site. 

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