Vandals strip Gauteng railways lines, causing R173m loss
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A staggering R173 million loss to vandals targeting Gauteng’s railway lines threatens to derail the “vital” and affordable train service that transports thousands of commuters daily.
The Star visited three critical rail transportation nodes in Gauteng, which have been wrecked over the last four months since the suspension of services following the initial lockdown which kicked in in March.
According to a parliamentary response to DA MP Mike Waters, Gauteng loses R672 570 daily in income in the province’s 17 rail nodes due to destroyed infrastructure.
This equates to an annual loss of R173m that the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) surrenders in Gauteng, as the switched off high-voltage infrastructure opened the floodgates for cable looters to strip rail assets in daylight.
Youngsters play next to vandalised train cables in Sebokeng.
The Star visited the Vereeniging to Midway (daily loss of R77 429) and the Naledi to New Canada (daily loss of R70 290) rail junctions, which are two of the three most loss-making routes in the province; as well as the Germiston to Kwesine (Katlehong) node, where locals were stripping cables with no security in sight.
Looters cashing in on the railway lines said they saw this as an easy way to make money as cables were lucrative assets for alleged unscrupulous warehouses and scrapyards, which paid top dollar for the metal.
Prasa spokesperson Makhosini Mgitywa on Tuesday acknowledged “vandalism and theft of infrastructure, especially copper cables” was problematic, as was the looting that took place with impunity in public.
Mgitywa added Gauteng was only running at 15% capacity because of the vandalism since July 1 in the Pienaarspoort to Pretoria line.
Asked why the state-owned agency did not have any security measures in place to safeguard its assets in light of the significant losses it was suffering, Mgitywa said Prasa was in the process of procuring services to look after the network.
“This will include personnel and smart technology. An announcement will be made soon in this regard,” he said, without saying when the details would be released.
“Over and above that, Prasa is using its own safety personnel to guard its network and is working closely with the SAPS and other stakeholders.
“Prasa is a state-owned company which serves the poor among society, and low-income earners. An attack on Prasa and its infrastructure is an attack on the state, the economy and the poor,” Mgitywa said.
The parastatal ferries two million South Africans countrywide, according to its website, with the reply to Waters’s question putting the figure at R672 000 in Gauteng.
Last year, Prasa lost R364m through looting of its infrastructure and burning of trains along 22 000km of tracks targeted by criminals.
At the time, Prasa administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo said: “Passenger rail is the only affordable public transportation system with the ability to move a large number of South Africans.”