Untu has branded the embattled Prasa trains as a disaster waiting to happen and accused the government of ignoring red flags. FILE PHOTO/ANA
JOHANNESBURG - The United National Transport Union (Untu) has branded the embattled Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) trains as a disaster waiting to happen and accused the government of ignoring red flags.

The union said yesterday that it was in the process of launching a court bid to force Prasa to adhere to safety standards.

Steve Harris, the general secretary of Untu, said more than 50percent of the signals used by train crews were out of order due to theft and vandalism.

“Manual train authorisations (MTAs) make trains more exposed to coalitions and derailments as human error may occur, like what happened at the Geldenhuys Station in Germiston, on the East Rand, in January, when three trains were authorised to continue on the same route due to MTAs being used,” Harris said.

Untu has called on its members, who constitute more than half of Prasa’s workforce, to inform the union of each incident, irrespective of the seriousness, to allow it to compose a comprehensive timeline to bolster its case.

The trade union further hit out at Minister of Transport Blade Nzimande, accusing him of forcing the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) to issue the rail agency with a temporary safety permit earlier this month.

The troubled rail agency briefly operated without a valid safety permit this month after its permit, which was previously issued with special conditions, expired at midnight on July 31.

Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani said the company was committed to complying with safety standards and would not wilfully risk the lives of its employees and commuters.

Department of Transport spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi hit back at the allegations made by Untu. “The statement by Untu is reckless and unfounded. Minister Nzimande has not issued a directive to the RSR to issue Prasa with a compliance permit,” Mnisi said.

“Rail safety is one of the tenets of providing a reliable metro rail service and the minister will not issue a directive that will endanger or compromise the lives of the commuters and South Africans at large.”

The RSR could not be immediately reached for comment to the allegations. The country has had a few rail accidents in the past few months.

In January a Shosholoza Meyl train en route from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg crashed into a truck that allegedly failed to stop at a level crossing. The accident involved nine carriages and more than 200 passengers were injured, while 18 people lost their lives.

In May four people were killed in a collision between a vehicle and a train in Magaliesburg, north-west of Johannesburg.

The auditor-general said last week that the entity had incurred a loss of R4.4billion in the 2017 financial year. The agency has still not tabled its statements for the 2016/17 financial year in Parliament.