Metrorail in a lose, lose situation
HARDLY a week goes by without Metrorail being blasted for an unreliable, unimproving and unsafe commuter service – but it is evident Metrorail has limited scope, on its own, for turning the service around.
The inescapable backdrop to Metrorail’s difficulties is the country’s faltering, distracted political leadership and the rampant multibillion rand fraud and waste that is among its more doleful consequences.
In a letter this month, the regional manager of Metrorail Western Cape, Richard Walker, candidly spelt out the conditions in which – as long as they last, or fail to be dealt with – there is little hope of getting the train service back on track.
These include “obsolete, outdated and aged infrastructure; components that are increasingly difficult and costly to source; maintenance skills fast disappearing; and, an operating environment increasingly vulnerable to unbridled crime and a plethora of social dilemmas unrelated to the rail service”.
Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott said this week that 28 carriages had been torched since the beginning of the year.
And the risks associated with criminality were compounded for Metrorail this week when train drivers of the United National Transport Union (Untu) – which represents nearly half of Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) employees – said they would no longer work on the notorious Central Line between Langa and Cape Town, because of the dangers.
Cable theft is another a major challenge, on which Walker noted: “With South Africa a major exporter of scrap metal, train arsonists still at large, and frequent spells of civil disobedience – all with debilitating effects on the provision of train services – who is failing whom?”
The need for modernisation, skills and effective security stand in contrast to the scale of corruption, maladministration, improper conduct and wasteful spending identified in the public protector’s damning “Derailed” report on Metrorail’s parent parastatal, Prasa.
In a statement this week, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Janine Myburgh said: “It has become clear that the traffic situation worsens when the Metrorail system is in trouble and it is becoming clearer by the day that money which should have been spent on maintenance, security and modernisation has been consumed by crime and corruption.”
The chamber’s statement added that “there was room for sympathy for Metrorail management. They had not been given the resources to run a good service.”
Ensuing – and costly – investigations and court proceedings arising from the Prasa probe continue, while Metrorail, as Walker put it, “works around the clock to ensure that the current obsolete, outdated and aged infrastructure is maintained as best we can”.
Walker’s key point is that the problems afflicting Metrorail – and, thus, commuters – cannot be solved by the commuter rail service on its own.
“Everyone’s efforts must be directed to ensure that rail becomes the fully functional, operationally safe, reliably punctual and integrated service it once was.”
The problems facing Metrorail “require a consolidated collaboration with appropriate authorities and civil society”.
He said that rail agency Prasa’s Accelerated Service Improvement Plan, “a targeted programme of stakeholder liaison”, would seek to “encourage sustainable collaboration and even joint funding of critical projects to stabilise the service”.
“We appeal to national, provincial and local authorities, law enforcement, the judiciary and civil society to help protect the rail service from the onslaught currently levelled against it for the good of this city and the majority of public transport users.”
A train was torched during rush hour at Nyanga Junction on Monday.
This happened only hours after a train driver was held at gunpoint at a red signal at Bonteheuwel Station.
Regional manager of Metrorail Western Cape Richard Walker.