An explosive situation could develop if the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) immediately stops operating as it has been ordered to do.
This warning comes from the deputy general secretary of the United National Transport Union (Untu), Sonja Carstens. Carstens responded to a statement issued by the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) on Wednesday that it has decided against issuing a safety permit to Prasa.
In March this year Untu blew the whistle on the apparent total collapse of Prasa’s passenger rail services. The union painted a horrific picture with whole trains being hijacked on a weekly basis by frustrated passengers who just wanted to get to their destination.
Prasa’s previous safety permit expired at midnight.
RSR spokesperson Madelein Williams confirmed to Moneyweb that Prasa is not allowed to operate without such a permit and is currently operating in contravention of the National Railway Safety Regulator Act.
Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani indicated that the agency will issue a statement about the matter.
The RSR said Prasa’s previous permit was already issued with special conditions. Prasa, however, failed to meet the conditions.
The permits are valid for a year and, when Prasa issued an application for renewal, the RSR was not satisfied that the identified issues were being adequately addressed.
Williams could not expand on the nature of these issues.
“The RSR is of the opinion that Prasa cannot demonstrate to the regulator that it has the ability, commitment and resources to properly assess and effectively control the risks to assets and safety of its customers, staff, contractors, visitors and others who may be affected by its railway operations,” the regulator said in a statement.
Williams said the RSR asked Prasa for further submissions, but only received that late on Tuesday afternoon, which was after the set deadline. The RSR team is now working through the submission and, if found to be in order, it could issue a new permit within about 48 hours.
According to Carstens, Untu members in all regions indicated that Prasa was currently still operating.
This, she said, exposed passengers and staff to great insurance and legal risk, should something go wrong.
Carstens said Untu’s legal representatives would send a letter to Prasa to demand that it stopped all operations until outstanding safety issues had been addressed and a valid permit had been issued.
She said Prasa transports millions of passengers daily. In the Western Cape alone, which is not even the biggest region, it transports about 1.2 million passengers a day.
While the continued operations pose a safety risk, the situation could also be explosive if Prasa operations are immediately stopped and commuters are left stranded.
Frustrated commuters have often reverted to violence and, in recent weeks, two multiple train carriages were set alight in Cape Town, which resulted in millions of rands of damage and crippled the Prasa fleet even further.
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