Rail safety regulator meeting over Prasa ignoring manual authorisation ban

Cape Town – The Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) is meeting to decide what action to take regarding the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa's (Prasa) decision to ignore its ban on the manual authorisation of trains to avoid passengers being stranded, or taking their anger out on trains.

"Already as far back as Wednesday we sat down with Prasa management and had a meeting where we already started discussing the way forward," said Madelein Williams, RSR communications manager.

The regulator banned manual authorisation with immediate effect in a prohibition directive on Tuesday, warning that inspectors would be out to enforce the ban, with legal action where required.

This followed a train rear-end crash at a station in Germiston, east of Johannesburg, on January 9 which left at least 200 commuters injured.

That incident followed a crash on Friday, January 5 near the Geneva station in the Free State where 19 people on a Shosholoza Meyl train were killed when a train hit the trailer of a truck carrying soya beans.

Prasa said it could not abide by the directive because passengers would be stranded and likely become furious, possibly leading to even more damage to the already ailing infrastructure if they lashed out.

Cape Town central line still closed

"Approximately 2.6 million passenger trips will be affected across the three provinces with Gauteng alone undertaking 1.5 million passenger trips per day," said Prasa in a statement forwarded to News24 by Metrorail Western Cape.

Metrorail Western Cape has also continued with manual authorisation, telling its customers that vandalism of its infrastructure was forcing it to do this, and that it was causing delays.

Metrorail Western Cape refuses to reopen that line unless police say it is safe to do so.

Prasa said the RSR's directive to stop manual authorisation of where and when trains can travel would push passenger numbers into road transport, increasing traffic.

"The use of manual authorisation by Metrorail is not by design, but arises out of the ongoing attacks on the rail infrastructure by thieves who continue to damage our signal infrastructure by stealing cables and signalling equipment," said Prasa.

"The scourge of cable theft and the continued support of that theft by clandestine industries continues to cost Prasa and government millions of rands that could be used to upgrade passenger rail [and] create job opportunities.

"The crime against the country's rail infrastructure cannot be managed by Prasa but requires us to treat it as a national crisis which requires national intervention, Prasa cannot fight this battle alone."