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Parliamentarians shocked and concerned with the dilapidated state of Cape train stations

The Standing Committee on Public Accounts conducted its final leg of the oversight visit in train stations in the Western Cape. Picture: ParliamentofRSA

The Standing Committee on Public Accounts conducted its final leg of the oversight visit in train stations in the Western Cape. Picture: ParliamentofRSA

Published Mar 14, 2022

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Cape Town - Such has been the sheer destruction at some railway stations it left a group of parliamentarians, tasked with the oversight of public accounts, in a state of shock.

Members of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) saw first-hand the damage wrought at the Salt River depot, Langa, Bellville and Philippi train stations at the weekend.

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The committee was conducting its final leg of an oversight visit in the Western Cape, during which it raised strong concerns about the dilapidated Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) infrastructure and vandalism at the stations.

Scopa chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said it had become clear that the decisions taken at Prasa had created a perfect storm for an imperfect outcome in the sense that the security breaches were largely to blame, and that this was as a result of the reckless implementation of a correct decision in 2019.

“The committee agrees that the security contract was irregular. However, it was solved in a reckless manner,” Hlengwa said.

He said the committee had scheduled a meeting with Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula for March 22 to share the observations of the committee, its engagements with the board and to take matters forward.

“Scopa will continue to give Prasa special attention in order to assist the entity to find a solution that will see it operating effectively and efficiently in serving commuters and ensuring that it performs its mandate of providing rail services to all SA,” he said.

United Commuters Voice (UCV) spokesperson João Jardim said it had long called for transformation of the rail sector, but its calls fell on deaf ears.

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He claimed that the Prasa board was doing nothing to remedy the situation, and “Mbalula, who cannot fix anything”.

He said UCV had on many occasions prior to implementation made reference to the weak security choices made by Prasa but still it went ahead. He said UCV would be consulting the legal fraternity in due course.

GOOD Party secretary-general Brett Herron said the failure by the Prasa board to implement an effective security plan – as was ordered by the high court nearly three years ago – was a dereliction of duty.

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He said the commuter rail infrastructure, particularly in Cape Town, was extremely porous and accessible and it had literally been destroyed and carried off under no-one’s direct watch.

“Prasa abandoned the infrastructure to wishful thinking that it would still be there by the time it was ready to protect it. It is a gross dereliction of duty and the board members should be held accountable,” Herron said.

He said there had been six ministers of transport over the past 10 years and countless acting Prasa group chief executives. If it was still possible to rescue commuter rail then it needed stability and competency urgently.

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“It may be beyond the point of no return in some parts of our network and the Cape Town Rail Plan we developed in 2018 needs to be dusted off,” he said.

Standing Committee on Public Accounts conducting its final leg of the oversight visit in train stations in the Western Cape. Picture: Parliament of RSA

Prasa spokesperson Andiswa Makanda said Prasa was in rebuilding mode but felt the impact that vandalism and theft of infrastructure had had on the services could not be understated.

“We are rebuilding the rail network corridor by corridor, track by track. A lot of work needs to be done to restore the services,” she said.

ANC transport spokesperson Lulama Mvimbi said the situation with the rail network was saddening and needed the government’s urgent attention.

“The rail is the backbone of our public transportation and its collapse has disadvantaged thousands of commuters,” Mvimbi said.

He called on the government to speedily improve the rail network and its security.

Derrick America, DA provincial spokesperson on Transport and Public Works, said delays in mending infrastructure and signal systems were just some of the challenges facing the full resumption of train services.

“Theft, vandalism and land invasions have all played a part in the steady decline in train services.

“Ultimately, this means that commuters who rely on safe, reliable and an affordable railway system are forced to wait longer or spend more on alternative transport options,” America said.

“Despite a plethora of promises, Prasa still has not been able to live up to any of its commitments,” he said.

America said as vandalism and theft increases, not enough is being done to protect valuable properties and infrastructure owned by Prasa.

“It is critical that Prasa invests in efficient and reliable security throughout its network to ensure that trains run on time and serve the thousands of commuters who rely on it,” he said.

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