Transport Minister Blade Nzimande Photo: Ntswe Mokoena DOC/GCIS
The government and Transport Minister Blade Nzimande can be held accountable for any injuries employees of the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) and its millions of commuters might incur due to its blatant disregard for basic safety procedures set down by the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR).

The RSR has a constitutional duty to ensure that the state-owned enterprise (SOE) implements the provisions of the National Railway Safety Regulator Act “to provide for safety standards and regulatory practices for the protection of persons, property and the environment”.

Steve Harris, the general secretary of the United National Transport Union which represents more than 50% of employees working for Prasa, says that over the past two years Prasa’s implementation of critical aspects of safety management has been dismal.

“More than 50% of the signals used by train crews are out of order due to theft and vandalism. Prasa issued more than 320 000 manual train authorisations (MTAs) between January 11 and June 30 this year.

“The number keeps increasing and there is no indication that Prasa is even attempting to normalise the situation,” says Harris.

MTAs make trains more exposed to collisions and derailments as human error might occur, which is what happened at the Geldenhuys Station in Germiston on the East Rand in January this year.

Three trains were authorised to continue the same route due to MTAs being used. One commuter died and more than 200 commuters were injured.

Jaco du Plessis, an independent attorney specialising in civil claims, says the government has the responsibility to abide by safety regulations where passenger rail is concerned.

“The government, the custodian of all SOEs in our Constitution, is accountable when injuries occur,” says Du Plessis.

Just last week, a report by the auditor-general showed that Prasa accumulated a loss of R4.7billion last year.

Du Plessis says Prasa’s loses are not the taxpayer’s problem.

Harris says the RSR refused to issue Prasa with a Safety Permit on July 31 this year, after the passenger rail did nothing to comply with the standards set out by the RSR within a year.

“Unfortunately the minister of Transport intervened and forced the RSR to issue Prasa with a compliance permit valid until August 31 August.”

The union is aware that Prasa is unable to comply. It would like to see the minister taking true leadership in admitting the service’s failure instead of forcing the RSR to issue temporary permits knowing that all is not well, and staff and commuters are being exposed,” says Harris.

The union has issued a directive to all its branches that it be informed of each incident, irrespective of the seriousness, in order to compose a comprehensive timeline. This will enable the union to approach the court if need be.

Sonja Carstens

Media and liaison officer

United National Transport Union