Picture: Motshwari Mofoken/African News Agency(ANA)
Cape Town - Tens of thousands of South African commuters may find themselves stranded after the Railway Safety Regulator reportedly issued a notice of its intention to revoke the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s operating permit. If this happens Metrorail operations countrywide could be shut down.

The drastic move by the regulator comes on the heels of a collision between two passenger trains earlier this week in which hundreds of people were injured, as well as a spate of arson attacks on trains in the Western Cape. KwaZulu-Natal has also seen protests over Metrorail's failure to deliver a reliable service to the province's poorest communities.

City of Cape Town Mayco member Brett Heron has called on Transport Minister Blade Nzimande to urgently intervene.

"The regulator is required to ensure that it is safe for commuters to use the urban rail service. The drastic decision to issue a notice to revoke PRASA’s operating permit on the grounds of safety concerns is a clear indication of the state of the service.

"Shutting down the most important mode of public transport is not a decision that would be taken easily. Grinding rail commuting to a halt will impact millions of South Africans," Herron said in a statement on Saturday.

"In Cape Town alone, several hundred thousand passenger trips are made daily on Metrorail despite the poor and unreliable conditions under which our commuters and residents travel. It is for precisely these reasons that I called on the Minister of Transport, Mr Blade Nzimande, to declare an emergency with regard to rail services. I was not ‘politicking’ as he has accused me of doing."

For most South Africans, trains are still the most affordable mode of public transport and the bus and taxi industry will be hard pressed to accommodate the additional passenger load if Metrorail's service is shut down.