The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) yesterday narrowly avoided leaving nearly 2 million commuters high and dry countrywide after being shut down by the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR) when it refused to issue a safety permit last week.
The regulator on Friday for the second time threatened to withdraw Prasa’s safety permit by today in the light of the recent Kempton Park train crash that left hundreds injured.
It is understood the RSR would not back down from its position yesterday afternoon, which saw Prasa contesting the decision in the High Court in Pretoria late yesterday afternoon.
“Prasa sought to engage RSR to reconsider its decision and rather confine the suspension to the corridor when the accident took place,” said its spokesperson, Nana Zenani.
“The reprieve granted by the court means there will be no interruption to the train service. Metrorail and long-distance passenger service will run as normal.”
According to RSR spokesperson Madelein Williams, the notice of the regulator’s intention to suspend Prasa’s safety permit was sent on Friday afternoon, and gave Prasa executives 48 hours to respond.
The threat followed the Van Riebeek Station train crash, where a passenger train slammed into a stationary train, injuring more than 300 – three seriously.
But this was not the only reason. Prasa’s safety permit was pulled in August, but after much negotiation it was issued a temporary safety permit for the rest of the month.
This was followed by a permit with special conditions for September.
“The special operating permit was on the condition that Prasa take measures to change the situation – and basically it has done nothing about it,” said Manny de Freitas, the DA’s shadow transport minister.
The court action meant Prasa was effectively telling the regulator not to interfere with it, said De Freitas.
“Sources I have been speaking to say nothing has been done. It’s not like there is no money. The money is there. Some years, Prasa has returned money to Treasury, so just get the job done,” De Freitas said. “This SOE is literally dying before our eyes.”
Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani said the organisation had seen a drastic increase in manual authorisation in train operations.
“Of the total number of manual authorisations, more than 33% (165 488) instances are as a result of continued vandalism of signalling equipment and theft of signalling cables.”
It’s a song Prasa has been singing for a long time.
In 2015, 92 people were injured and security guard Tiisetso Napo died after a business express train hit another train at the Denver Station, southeast of Johannesburg.
In 2017, Elandsfontein, a passenger train travelling between Johannesburg and Pretoria, was hit by another train pulling out of a siding on to the same track, leaving one person dead and more than 100 injured.
On 4 September, 100 more people were injured in a head-on collision between two trains at the Eloff extension in Selby, Johannesburg.
Then there was the January 2018 horror crash in Kroonstad, Free State, which saw 21 people killed and 200 injured when a truck tried to beat the train while crossing in front of it.
Prasa and the regulator are expected to meet again in court on Thursday.