Picture: Bongani Shilulbane/African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) and the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) need to prove that they have adhered to the court order granted against Prasa by Gauteng High Court Judge Cassim Sardiwalla in October last year, the United National Transport Union (Untu) said. 

At the same time, Transport Minister Blade Nzimande needs to take accountability for the "ongoing gambling with the lives of innocent employees and commuters”, the union said in a statement.

Untu was "totally disgusted with the total incompetence" of Prasa and its "arrogance about the lives of millions of commuters and thousands of employees", Untu general secretary Steve Harris said in the statement.

Recent incidents reaffirmed Untu’s view that the RSR "has no teeth and is not able to act against Prasa even after the North Gauteng High Court enabled it to", he said.

"Untu demands that Prasa and the RSR proves to the South African public that it adhered to the order granted against Prasa by Judge Cassim Sardiwalla on 12 October 2018. Prasa must also prove that it submitted the various plans the judge wanted within the deadlines stipulated."

Untu had information that Prasa did not adhere to at least two of the deadlines in the court order in December. The union went to the High Court on Friday to check what had been submitted to Sardiwalla, only to be informed by the clerk of the court that the file had been removed. Untu wanted to enquire from Sardiwalla himself what the state of affairs was, but was informed that he was still on leave.

"In the meantime, yet another Metrorail train 0229 derailed [on Friday] morning after the train control officer manually authorised it on the Millsite, West Rand route affecting the Randfontein/Johannesburg corridor," Harris said.

Workers from Prasa Perway were replacing sleepers on the main line. Harris said that according to information Untu received, the train control officer wanted to know if it was safe for the train driver to continue on the route. It was allegedly confirmed that protection was in place and the train driver received authorisation to continue on the route at a speed of 30km/h.

"The 16 sleepers were still loose and at least two of the coaches derailed. We can only thank God that nobody died or sustained serious injuries [on Friday]. Enough is enough. If Prasa and the RSR don’t submit the proof that they have adhered to Judge Sardiwalle’s court order, the union will consider bringing an urgent application in court to force them to do so," he said.

"Both of them account to Transport Minister Blade Nzimande. Untu demands that he take accountability for the ongoing gambling with the lives of innocent employees and commuters,” Harris said.

This came after at least three people died and 620 were injured in a collision between two trains at the Mountain View Station in Pretoria on January 8, after the train control officer manually authorised the train driver of the second train on the route where another train was stationary at the platform.

This accident would not have happened had Prasa implemented the plan that addressed its implementation of manual authorisation as set out in the court order. According to the order, all manual authorisations had to be overseen by a train control officer and a section manager to limit the risk of human error occurring, "as has been the case in all five collisions in Gauteng over the past two years", Harris said.

Prasa had been ordered to submit a procurement plan with timelines and milestones to the RSR by October 30, 2018 and had to submit a comprehensive safety improvement plan to address all safety issues by no later than November 30, 2018. Untu doubted that this was done, he said.

“Prasa is compelled to provide the RSR and the registrar of the court with monthly written feedback reports of its progress. According to the order, Judge Sardiwalla will continue to manage the case and will convene a general compliance assessment conference with the parties on 19 June 2019 at 10:00.

“Prasa must also provide the RSR with a comprehensive integrated asset condition assessment report of all its rail infrastructure, including stations, Perway and civil, level crossings, signalling, telecoms, and rolling stock by no later than 1 March 2019,” Harris said.

African News Agency (ANA)