Picture: City of Cape Town
Cape Town - Not only does the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) no longer have a safety permit to operate, but Parliament’s portfolio committee on transport has also run out of patience after its promises to improve commuter safety.

The Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) has refused to issue a safety permit, which expired at midnight on July 31, until it is satisfied that Prasa’s planned interventions address the current safety concerns.

"The RSR is of the opinion that Prasa cannot demonstrate to the regulator that it has the ability, commitment and resources to properly assess and effectively control the risks to assets and safety of its customers, staff, contractors, visitors and others who may be affected by its railway operations,” said the regulator.

Prasa noted with alarm the statement sent by the RSR stating that it is operating without a valid safety permit. Prasa said it had requested an extension of the safety permit to cover the 48-hour timeline given by the RSR to respond to a submission Prasa had made last week. 

It had still not received an official response from RSR, Prasa said yesterday, and it therefore “cannot give an official response through media reports”. 

Parliament is increasing pressure on Prasa to account for the progress of safety and security measures it has promised to put in place to protect Metrorail infrastructure and commuters in the Western Cape. A total of 32 train carriages have been damaged so far this year – 15 last month, with three incidents in 11 days at Cape Town station, with many security personnel present.

Parliament’s portfolio committee on transport chairperson Dikeledi Magadzi said: “It is taking too long for Prasa to uphold the promises that they have made to the portfolio committee. They indicated that they are going to provide security at these facilities.

“Sometime last year, Prasa indicated that they are going to talk to the police and beef up their own security. We don’t see at all if they have beefed up their security and we are very disappointed.” 

Prasa acting group chief executive Cromet Molepo told the committee there was a commitment from the City of Cape Town to provide “100 officers, 60 commuter safety security staff and 14 infrastructure staff”. He said Prasa would also bolster its security with 1 550 officials.

Magadzi said it was concerning that Prasa had money to effect the required security, but was unable to use the funds allocated to it in the past financial year to “beef up” their security. 

“There was money in the previous financial year which was not utilised by Prasa. We indicated to them that they should use the money to revamp the coaches that are in Salt River so that they can assist the remaining carriers. But I know for sure that nothing of that kind has happened to date,” said Magadzi. 

Meanwhile, Premier Helen Zille has welcomed the arrest of a suspect on Tuesday in connection with yet another attempt to set a train alight at Cape Town station yesterday. 

"Yesterday’s arrest is a breakthrough and offers an opportunity to identify who is responsible for hiring people to commit arson on our trains,” Zille said. 

“Prasa requires 88 train sets to run an effective service. Currently, due to arson, cable theft, and vandalism, the available sets are down to 40.  As a result, the number of commuters using trains continues to drop (having almost halved since 2000). 

"This is a major cause of traffic congestion on our roads and public inconvenience, which, in turn, has a seriously negative effect on our economy.

“This is serious economic sabotage that threatens to bring our public transport system to a halt. We welcome the arrest, and we hope this will lead to the organised criminal interests behind these arson attacks being exposed.” 

It remained necessary for the army to be deployed to ensure that critical rail infrastructure and trains in the Western Cape are protected, she added. 

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Cape Times