File picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Prasa 'war room' slated by train drivers for failure to improve performance, safety

By Okuhle Hlati Time of article published Sep 10, 2019

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Cape Town – A month after the launch of a national rail disaster management centre called the "war room", train drivers said there has been no improvement in Metrorail's performance or the safety on trains.

To date train drivers still don’t have a telephone number for the centre where they were informed they could report problems occurring on their routes, the United National Transport Union (Untu) said.

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (Prasa) Ministerial war room, launched by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula last month and supported by a technical task team, was established to monitor Metrorail’s operations daily and ensure the implementation of turnaround strategies.

The union’s general secretary, Steve Harris, said while it was business as usual for Prasa management and Mbalula, their drivers continued to bear witness to the stripping of the remaining infrastructure by criminals.

“Abnormal working of trains continues with thousands of manual authorisations issued per month nationwide. Train drivers throughout the country, also those working for Transnet Freight Rail, are reporting the theft of overhead cables daily,” said Harris. He said their members were questioning if the war room really existed.

“The harsh reality is that the so-called Prasa, with its so-called war rooms, and the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) are both merely trying to comply with the extended court order of the Gauteng North HIgh Court grating Prasa a conditional safety operating permit," said Harris.

Sharing the sentiment, United Behind’s Zukie Vuka said the war room had no clear plan and there was no proper consultation with commuters.

“We are still waiting for a commuter-centred safety plan. Despite the establishment of the ‘war room’, tragic deaths still often occur on trains due to overcrowding, failing infrastructure and violent crime.

“Women and girls are routinely harassed and sexually assaulted, with no protection or recourse. The systemic delays and cancellations inflict untold misery on commuters. 

"Pupils lose time at school and at home using a service that is unreliable and unsafe. We still expect Mbalula to meet with commuters and civil society to discuss plans to #FixOurTrains,” said Vuka.

However, Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani said Prasa was happy with the progress made in such a short space of time.

“In Western Cape, the war room recovered the central line and addressed cable theft, vandalism and train burnings. There has been an improvement in all provinces. 

"The war room was never established to do the work of daily operations. It is a stop-gap measure to ramp service performance to required levels, pertaining to improving train set availability and reliability, as well as improving on-time performance.”

Zenani said the centre ensured that the rail operations were given the necessary support to reduce the frustrations of commuters with regard to service or lack of service rendered.

Cape Times

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