File photo: African News Agency (ANA)

The deployment of a dedicated rail enforcement unit in the city has been delayed by a month due to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (Prasa) failure to adhere to a co-funding agreement.

This has stalled the recruitment process as only 70 of the earmarked 100 officers could be trained so far. The officers are now expected to be deployed at the beginning of November, Mayco member for transport and urban development Brett Herron told the Cape Times on Tuesday.

It was only severe criticism from Herron at the weekend over Prasa being “reckless and careless” by failing to protect the safety of rail commuters that seemingly led to the rail agency reaffirming its commitment to paying its R16 million share needed to get the unit up and running. It released a statement to that effect with its co-funders, the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape government, on Tuesday.

“Despite Prasa’s obligation‚ as confirmed by the Constitutional Court‚ to ensure a safe public transport service and all of our efforts to assist them to honour this obligation‚ we are still awaiting Prasa’s contribution of R16m,” Herron said at the weekend. “We have sent several urgent reminders to the Prasa executive to fulfil their duties and to honour their commitment.”

Had it not been for the outrage over the deadly attack on commuters travelling on a train between Lynedoch and Eerste River on Friday evening‚ which resulted in the death of one man and eight other commuters being robbed of their belongings before being thrown off the train, Prasa, who had signed a memorandum of agreement in May, might still be dragging its heels.

Herron said on Tuesday: “The CEO of Prasa flew down after I criticised them on the weekend and met with my officials and the Western Cape government officials, and agreed they would now pay up.

“We had wanted the unit to be in place by October. The province paid and we found the funding for our portion, but we haven’t been able to fully implement the recruitment because Prasa hadn’t paid its portion. We have issued a joint statement by the three of us that they have now committed to paying and the project should get back on track.

“It’s a small unit of only 100 officers, but if we deploy it intelligently it can make a visible difference and then we have a basis for expanding it. The way things are carrying on now the rail system is collapsing before our eyes.

“Prasa lost 2.7 million trips the last financial year compared to the previous one. We are now experiencing a four-hour peak period in the morning and in the evening because the rail system is not functioning.”

On Sunday, Herron said the City had asked Minister of Transport Blade Nzimande to declare a state of emergency due to Cape Town’s rail services being under siege. Nzimande’s department has acknowledged receiving the request but hasn’t responded yet.

Commenting on the request, Herron said on Tuesday: “When I wrote to Mr Blade Nzimande, I was asking to see what executive powers he has to put in place a rapid response team that could turn this collapse of Metrorail around. Whether he could declare a disaster or an emergency, the purpose of which is to divert extra financial funding and resources to get the rail capacity back up to what it needs to be.

"We need extra policing resources on the rail system, so it really was a case of seeking a rapid response to turn this around and the state of emergency or disaster, whichever is the most appropriate, should enable the Treasury to divert funds to make this happen.

"It’s a national competency. So between the province and I, we have been stepping way out of our mandate, but we are asking national government to join us and find a solution. They have the mandate and executive authority to implement the turnaround strategy

“We need at least 88 train sets. A few years ago we were aiming at a 110 train sets to operate on this rail network and we are down to below 40.

"We need to very quickly turn around the rail capacity so we can get people on trains and not hanging on top of them and out of the windows, and have frequent train services as per the schedule.

“The Central Line from Khayelitsha to the City of Cape Town is supposed to have 33 trains operating – we have eight. I went on one of those trains and it only had four carriages. A full train set comprises 13 carriages, so Metrorail is operating at a fraction of its capacity due to a lack of infrastructure.

"Prasa has had a prolonged period of a lack of continuity of management, with all these acting CEOs and five transport ministers in seven years. So it is about providing a stable environment.

"The expertise may have left Prasa because of its disfunctionality, but it doesn’t mean it has left South Africa."