Metro­rail in a lose, lose sit­u­a­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL MOR­RIS

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.

PIC­TURE: PHANDO JIKELO

Re­gional man­ager of Metro­rail Western Cape Richard Walker.

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