Rail transport, the Prasa way: die, whine, repeat

Two trains collided at the Mountain View Station in Pretoria, 8 January 2019. The train was reportedly carrying 800 passengers. Four people have been reported to have been killed so far and more than 600 are said to be injured. Picture: Jacques Nelles

Two trains collided at the Mountain View Station in Pretoria, 8 January 2019. The train was reportedly carrying 800 passengers. Four people have been reported to have been killed so far and more than 600 are said to be injured. Picture: Jacques Nelles

It’s easier to wring hands, walking with furrowed brows, tut-tutting over yet another killing field, than to actually account for what’s happening.

As the minister of transport, Blade Nzimande is directly responsible for the up to two million people who use his trains on a daily basis.

And following yet more preventable deaths, it’s time the honourable member realised this isn’t Thomas the Tank Engine time: it is time he took control as the chief conductor.

His words of condolences are meaningless when he is the one who stepped in between the court action between the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR) and the Passenger Rail Association of South Africa (Prasa).

The regulator was trying to prevent yet more deaths, as it is supposed to, and Prasa wanted to keep on operating. Nzimande said settle it out of court, which they did, putting Prasa under judicial observation.

Despite this, here we are: more dead people, more hundreds injured and traumatised, to add to a growing Roll of Honour of those who braved the rail system – and lost.

Ordinary people, wanting to build a better life, have to take their lives in their hands every day.

The RSR report released late on Wednesday noted the cabling had been missing since November last year, contrary to insinuations it was fairly recent.

It’s the same old whine nearly each time there’s an accident.

If Prasa knows what the problem is, why is the theft still happening?

What investigations has it launched? What was the result of those investigations? Where is the cable going? Any arrests?

But no, it’s crickets in the land of Prasa because it’s easier to wring hands, walking with furrowed brows, tut-tutting over yet another killing field, than to actually account for what’s happening.

According to Prasa’s website, it would spend R5.6 billion on its signalling programme, “with the expenditure expected to reach R1.8 billion in 2015/16, R1.8 billion in 2016/17 and R1.9 billion in 2017/18. Spending is forecasted to increase significantly in the period ahead”.

With all this money there should be some improvement, right?

Wrong.

Last year, according to the regulator’s State of Safety report, Prasa carried less passengers over fewer kilometres, yet somehow trains were involved in more collisions, with Gauteng recording the highest levels of harm.

The silence from Prasa’s group CEO, Sibusiso Sithole and board chair Khanyisile Kweyama, and his board members echoes in the silence created by the loss of life.

What are they doing? Where can we see actual physical improvements? So much rah-rah over the new trains and the factory to build them, but we can’t stop trains from rear-ending each other?

Dear Minister … These trains were built to last. They can dent and with some heat and a hammer you can return them to service as rolling coffins.

Once a person is hammered by a train, you only get to bury the wage earners, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers.

And then you get to walk away.

Until the next one …

Amanda Watson.

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