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Prasa says it needs cash injection to thwart crime and rebuild networks

In this file photo, Metrorail passengers vandalised stalls and Prasa offices and set two trains alight at the Cape Town railway station because of train delays. Photo, Phando Jikelo.

In this file photo, Metrorail passengers vandalised stalls and Prasa offices and set two trains alight at the Cape Town railway station because of train delays. Photo, Phando Jikelo.

Published Jun 23, 2022

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STATE capture left the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) not only gasping for survival, but facing a mammoth battle to secure its mostly dilapidated networks.

This as the last report of the State Capture Commission of Inquiry by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, released this week, strongly recommended that the state-owned entity be examined closely to uncover the skeletons that ruined it.

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Appearing before Parliament’s select committee on transport this week, Prasa detailed security as a major concern, with plans to increase boots on the ground, e-guarding, body cameras, drones, bulletproof vests and buying arms to fight off syndicates’ metal and copper assets.

Prasa acting chief executive Davin Mphelo has said the entity requires an allocation of at least R1 billion a year to go full-tilt at securing vulnerable assets, including burying its copper cables under think slabs of concrete.

This as the onslaught of crime on its network continues unabated, at times by syndicates who merely cut off the copper cables to destabilise the system.

“As the service is recovered per corridor or line, it needs to be secured and protected until we recover the whole system,” Mphelo said.

Prasa said it planned to spend about R8bn over the next five years on the general overhaul of 400 of its locomotives, with R7.5bn targeted at wrecks and accident-damaged locomotives and R500 million for light maintenance of the rolling stock.

It has also budgeted about R9bn over the next five years to roll out updated signalling and communications systems, which have not only been affected by the vandalism but are also on manual mode, which Mphelo said was not foolproof from causing accidents.

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Prasa has 18 functional lines out of 40. Only seven are functional in Gauteng, three in KwaZulu-Natal, two in the Eastern Cape and six in the Western Cape.

“The goal is to rebuild the total system and business corridor by corridor and line by line,” Mphelo said.

Prasa’s operations were hit hard by the siphoning of funds from operational and procurement allocations, affecting its efficiency.

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It also saw a drastic decline in passenger numbers.

The latest statistics showed that Metrorail paying customers had decreased from 646 million in 2008/9 to 147 million in 2019/20, Main Line Passenger Service (MLPS) passengers had declined from 3 million in the same period to  278 400, while bus company Autopax passengers had declined 2.4 million to 1.6 million.

“As the number of paying passengers declines, so do operational revenues, making it more difficult to fund the maintenance, refurbishment and maintain levels of services, which has led to further loss of paying customers,” Mphelo said.

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“Prasa passenger revenue has thus declined at a much higher rate than which the government could affordably increase the operational subsidies,” he said.

Mphelo is requesting the National Treasury and the Department of Transport to allow it to transfer R6.9bn from its capital funds to an operational account for the entity to stay afloat, pay R1.7bn in long-outstanding debt and also take Autopax out of business rescue with a R1.5bn polish-up.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, delivering the last part of the State Capture inquiry he chaired over the past four years, has asked that the National Director of Public Prosecutions to start immediately to put together teams to prosecute wrongdoers at Prasa and has recommended that a new probe be instituted to get to the bottom of why South Africa’s state-run passenger rail agency was allowed to slide into almost total ruin.

Major points of the inquiry’s findings centred on two controversial contracts that the rail group entered into with companies Swifambo and Siyangena.

The Swifambo contract, which was stopped by the court in 2020, had been arranged in March 2013 and entailed purchasing 70 locomotives from a company called Swifambo Rail Leasing for R3.5bn.

The Siyangena contract refers to a tender won by electronic security systems group Siyangena Technologies to install integrated security systems at rail stations. The initial budget for the contract was R517m, but this later ballooned after it was extended.

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