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The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) took the ordinary step of taking the Rail Safety Regulator to court on suspension of operating licence in order to “avert a national disaster”, the Portfolio Committee on Transport heard today.

Prasa Board Chairperson, Ms Khanyisile Kweyama, told the committee that a suspension of Prasa’s licence would have meant that there were no trains running from Monday onwards.

“Had we not gone to court, it would have meant that the whole country was brought to a standstill from yesterday (Monday). More vandalism would have occurred as a consequence, more burnings would have occurred, and Prasa employees would have possibly been targeted,” Ms Kweyama said.

“The reason we went to court was so that we avert that national disaster.”

Ms Kweyama led a strong Prasa delegation that came to brief the committee on the burning of trains and the strategies Prasa has developed as a response.

The Chairperson of the committee, Ms Dikeledi Magadzi, said the committee was aware of all the challenges and needed to hear about what is being done to correct what is wrong with the rail system.

“The committee decided to call this urgent meeting due to what is happening. To witness what we are seeing has been a challenge, it has been traumatic. We want to understand what is it that you are doing or not doing.”

She said it worried the committee when the battleground is among the entities of government in the transport sector. She also sought clarity on what is happening with such programmes as the modernisation, revamping of fairways, and refurbishing of platforms.

She pointed out that management instability at the entity when it came to senior management – seven chief executive officers in four years – impacted negatively on service delivery and led to corruption.

“Modernisation was thrown out of the window and corruption took the centre stage. Whilst that happened, vandalism also took place. These are the things we see happening. One cannot talk about the economy when there is reduction of the train service,” she said.

She said the committee was concerned about seeing people hanging outside trains.

“This is the worst we’ve seen in years, ixinge phi (what is the problem)?” She asked

Prasa’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Sibusiso Sithole, said the causes of the burning of trains were multifaceted and a multipronged strategy is required to deal with the process.

“Cameras and censors on board to record suspicious activities and identify perpetrators are contemplated. We are also working with law enforcement agencies as well. Various other means are being taken to address the burnings, including the redesign of the seats of the trains.”

Ms Kweyama revealed that the board, management, and labour were all seized with the challenges that Prasa is faced with.

She said the board needed to have a private, frank discussion with the committee.

“The board would like to take the committee in confidence privately, regarding many other matters. Initial analysis and diagnosis of the issues show that there are bigger factors at play. Matters at Prasa require more than paper submissions, they are matters of national interest and affect commuters.”

She said the main task is to stabilise Prasa, and ensure trains are running and Prasa employees get to work and do what they are paid for. She also revealed that outstanding annual reports had been finalised and the board now has just missed the deadline for the 2017/18 annual report. “It will be submitted soon,” she said.

By Sibongile Maputi
9 October 2018