Prasa has been granted a temporary safety permit by the Railway Safety Regulator to continue operating its trains until the end of the month.
WHILE the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) was granted a temporary safety permit, the safety of employees and commuters was not guaranteed, the United National Transport Union said.

The union, which represents train drivers and employees, also said Prasa had forced drivers to work illegally for 32 hours before it was issued with the permit on Thursday. Prasa had revealed it was operating illegally.

The Railway Safety Regulator issued Prasa with a temporary safety permit on Thursday, allowing trains to continue operating. The original permit had expired on Tuesday.

General secretary of the union Steve Harris told the National Press Club in Pretoria that Parliament should force President Cyril Ramaphosa to explain why the government left the state-owned enterprise to “go to ruin over the past few years”.

“This is a very dangerous situation. The regulator issued a temporary permit too quickly without doing a thorough safety check.

“This leaves railway employees and commuters at risk because a thorough check was not conducted,” he said.

Harris said some of the problems faced by Prasa included cable theft, manual authorisations, unsafe coaches and the need to keep the trains running.

“You would be shocked to see the state of the coaches. It so happens that from time to time they just send out the train sets just to get the people moving and hoping that nothing will break down,” he said.

“It puts the lives of the train drivers and the guards at risk because you cannot then utilise the trains at normal speeds. That starts creating a build-up of delays, and delays then create animosity among commuters and then you have torching of carriages again.”

The regulator caused a stir when it announced that it was not renewing the safety permit, which expired at midnight on July 31.

Prasa applied for an extension and was granted a temporary safety permit instead which will be valid until the end of the month.

The regulator decided not to issue a permit until it was satisfied with Prasa’s planned interventions to address the safety concerns. It said safety concerns included the operation and maintenance of the system, including inadequate staffing levels.

“If not addressed properly, these will affect the safety of railway operations,” it said.

Prasa transports nearly two million commuters on its trains daily.

The regulator said the temporary permit would allow the rail agency to continue with its operations and to address the identified inadequacies.

The country has had a few rail accidents in the past few months. In January a Shosholoza Meyl train en route from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg crashed into a truck that allegedly failed to stop at a level crossing. The accident involved nine carriages and more than 200 passengers were injured, while 18 people lost their lives.

In May, four people were killed in a collision between a vehicle and a train in Magaliesburg, north-west of Joburg.

Harris said they could understand where the regulator might be pressurised from. “I’m not saying it is so, but those who report to the Transport Ministry say so and unfortunately this has been our concern all along. The regulatory body should be independent without any external pressure.”