Train ride a reality check for Nzimande

Friday, October 5, 2018

Transport Minister Blade Nzimande kick-started the 2018 Transport Month by joining thousands of commuters who use Metrorail trains to get to work.

The Minister ditched the comfort of his car to catch a 6am train from Mamelodi to Pretoria CBD’s Bosman train station.

Nzimande was met with a train packed to the rafters, with no glass to seal off the windows and frustrated commuters, who took the opportunity to vent their anger on the rail infrastructure.

It is a common sight to see of late: overcrowded trains, with some commuters hanging out the doors and windows.

The delays in the services have at times led to commuters torching trains, as some passengers lose their jobs due to arriving late at work.

One commuter SAnews spoke to said he is sitting on his last warning letter for late arrival at work. 

“The station is always like this… evenings are even worse. The trains are always late because they break down now and again. We are only told the reason is that the trains are more than 30 years old, hence the breakdowns or its due to cable theft.

”The other challenge is safety because of the overcrowding. It is very difficult to be a train commuter but I only use it because it is cheap,” said the commuter, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Other commuters cornered the Minister to address challenges with the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa).

“We are losing our jobs because of Prasa,” shouted some commuters as the Minister arrived at Bosman station shortly after 8am.

Speaking to SAnews, Nzimande said his train ride experience was an important one, as he was able to see first-hand the challenges the commuters face on a daily basis.

“It was important to interact with commuters because they are raising very important issues. Our trains are still running very late, some have lost jobs as a result of the train delays, and there are very uncomfortable levels of congestion… We still need more trains, but infrastructure remains a big challenge,” the Minister said.

Modernisation Programme

Vandalism remains a huge problem. In 2017, 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.

The theft and vandalism of Metrorail assets is also undermining Prasa’s R172 billion modernisation programme aimed at upgrading infrastructure and improving passenger rail services.

However, not all is lost as Prasa has managed to make some strides with the introduction of the X'Trapolis MEGA blue trains, which have been deployed in the corridor between Pienaarspoort and Koedoespoort in Pretoria.

The trains, which are part of the modernisation programme, 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. 

Nzimande, who rode on a X’Trapolis train, said he was pleased that their introduction was a step in the right direction.

“The [X'Trapolis MEGA trains] show that we are slowly getting somewhere. We just need to accelerate and get our rail service to appropriate standards.”

A matter of safety

Compared to other modes of transport, trains are still the safest and cheapest way to get around.

This is despite last night’s train accident. Metrorail train 0659 travelling from Johannesburg Park Station to Pretoria collided from the rear with train 0663, which was faulty and stationery at Van Riebeeckpark Station just before 6pm.

More than 320 commuters were injured and no fatalities were reported. According to Prasa, 32 of the 320 injured commuters suffered serious but not critical injuries.

The injured commuters were taken for medical attention at various hospitals including Tembisa, Kalafong, Zamokuhle, Arwyp, Tambo Memorial, Linksfield, Bertha Gxowa and Milpark Hospitals. 

Nzimande told SAnews that he was  shocked by the accident.

“A number of these accidents have to do with the state of our infrastructure. It’s a call to us to do all we can to minimise such accidents,” the Minister said, adding that he will be visiting some of the injured passengers in hospital.

A board of enquiry will be instituted to determine the root cause of the accident and Prasa will be working closely with all authorities.

Metrorail technical teams are working around the clock to recover the site. 

After the train ride, Nzimande and his entourage visited SA Taxi Finance Holdings.

In recent months, the taxi industry has been complaining that the company is charging them high-interest rates, which forces them to pay monthly instalments that are even more than their monthly profit -- something they say is killing their business.  

Raising a safety conscious generation

Nzimande will also award well-deserving grade 11 and 12 learners, who participated in a speech contest and debate on solutions to combat the carnage on South Africa’s roads.

About 250 learners competed to become the national champions in debate and the design of the best road safety model under the banner of the National Participatory Educational Techniques (PET) Competition and Road Safety Debate in Benoni, Gauteng.

Hosted by the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), in partnership with the national Department of Basic Education, the competition is a knowledge transfer project aimed at changing learners’ attitudes towards road safety issues by means of participatory education.

Informed by the National Road Safety Strategy, the project is directed at high schools. It encourages learners to identify road safety problems within their communities and find solutions by way of research into the problems, thereby providing them with a hands-on opportunity to solve their own community’s road safety problems

Transport Month is being held under the theme ‘Together we move South Africa Forward’. The month-long campaign will roll out and showcase transport infrastructure development and services, as well as flagship projects delivered across all modes of transport including public transport and road safety.

In his message to South Africans for the month, Nzimande said while it should be acknowledged that South Africa has a good public transport system, there is still a long road ahead in terms of proper integration.

Most of all, the Minister urged South Africans to protect public transport facilities and infrastructure.

“This thing of burning things, like trains, and stealing of copper is not on. Those are the things that contribute to unsafe conditions,” said the Minister. –