Structured plans to put PRASA back on track

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Government has announced structured intervention to turnaround the country’s commuter rail system.

Phase one of the intervention will see the appointment of a team of performance experts who will undertake a 6-8 week organisational analysis of the Passenger Rail Agency South Africa (PRASA).

The team is expected to submit a factual report - addressing key factors that would have led to the failed implementation of PRASA’s Turn-Around Strategies, Transport Minister Blade Nzimande announced on Thursday.

The new interventions follow President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Tuesday visit to PRASA in Cape Town to look at ways the rail sector can stimulate the economy while also improving commuter services.

This was after the President’s recent personal experience of commuter frustration and technical problems with rolling stock between the Mabopane and Bosman train stations in Pretoria. The train he was travelling broke down, turning a 45-minute journey into a three-hour delay. 

PRASA, which is responsible for delivering rail services, has over the years been engulfed in allegations of corruption, mismanagement and lack of delivery due to old trains and lack of maintenance of train tracks.

Last year, the agency presented their “Interventions to Recover the Service,” plans which among others was aimed at addressing the sustained decline in business performance – both operational and financial.

But the agency was hit by another blow in February after its interim CEO Sibusiso Sithole who was tasked with turning it around resigned - after just nine months at the helm.

Nzimande said on the basis of the outcome of the phase one contained in the factual report, PRASA will go on to appoint a Turn-Around Execution Team under the direction of his department.

This high-level team will monitor and report progress to both the board and the Minister.

Immediate actions to ensure stability

Coupled with these two inter-related phases, Nzimande further outlined immediate actions which will be implemented to ensure stability and service delivery.

“I will be extending the current PRASA Board term by six months before its expiry on the 30th April 2019. The Board will be expected to finalise the appointment of advertised executives’ vacancies and ensure that recommended candidates undergo the State Security Agency vetting process,” Nzimande told the media in Pretoria.

He said his department will assist in the identification of the necessary capacity required in the Acting Group CEO’s office.

To immediately stabilise operations - the Minister said the board is further directed to focus on key operational issues that will improve the reliability of trains by 60% and improve delays by 41%.

Improved security

To secure trains, passengers and assets, security personnel will be deployed on trains as well as the improvement of consequence management, following recent train crashes.

Last year, a train travelling from Johannesburg Park Station to Pretoria collided from the rear at Van Riebeeckpark Station leaving over 300 passengers injured.

In January, four people died while over 600 commuters were injured when two trains collided at Pretoria's Mountain View train station.

Just last month, about 19 commuters suffered injuries as a result of the derailment at the Elandsfontein to Tembisa route.

Nzimande said this will be addressed at grassroots by improving the low morale of the train drivers who allegedly are frustrated as a result of their safety concerns and related condition of their service.

Burning of trains

After months of burning of trains by passengers out of frustration - PRASA will also be introducing asset protection by fencing or walling of corridors and depots in all regions which will be completed during the 2019/20 financial year.

Metrorail indicated that it had seen losses amounting to R51.4 million from 1 April 2015 to 30 September 2017 as a result of cable theft and vandalism. With this in mind, Nzimande says he has railed in his colleagues from the Security cluster to help beef up safety.

“I will also be working to change our laws to include, amongst others, the torching of trains so that it be declared as a serious crime of arson, which is a more serious offence in law.”

In addressing common challenges experienced in various corridors, the Board has been tasked to adopt a priority corridor approach - where each region will have at least one priority corridor to modernise through the appointment of a dedicated corridor project manager.

Modernisation of rail network

Nzimande said the modernisation of the whole rail network system through the PRASA’s Rolling Stock Fleet Renewal Programme was critical - as rail was the backbone of the South African public transport system in the National Development Plan.

The Rolling Stock Fleet Renewal Programme will among others see the manufacturing of more than 7 000 new trains over a period of 20 years - or close to 30 per month.

Currently, Metrorail alone transports just over 800 000 passengers trips per weekday, while the system is capable of transporting 2.5 – 3 million passengers daily once the service capacity has been restored.

To take advantage of this, Nzimande said the introduction of X'Trapolis MEGA blue test trains will bring much relief to the system. Two of these test trains are already operating in Cape Town.

An additional 30 more test trains will be deployed to the area and 35 each for KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

The test trains are part of the modernisation programme, which will see the full introduction of the X'Trapolis MEGA blue trains - which boast an air conditioning system, state-of-the-art passenger safety and comfort, and universal access for all passengers to cater for those using wheelchairs.

Stakeholder relations’ managers

Going forward, the Minister said he has appointed stakeholder relations’ managers who will act as a direct link between his office and various stakeholders, including commuter and community organisations.

The stakeholder relations managers will be based in Cape Town, Gauteng, eThekwini, and East London, where Metrorail has operations. –