Millions of train commuters could be left stranded after the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR) forbid the Passenger Railway Agency of SA (PRASA) to direct trains manually.
The Department of Transport, RSR and PRASA had been locked in meetings the whole afternoon on Wednesday to deal with the prohibition directive suspending the use of manual authorisation during degraded conditions.
The directive was issued following the train accident at Geldenhuys Railway Station in Germiston earlier this week.
The meeting was meant to highlight the huge impact of the directive on train operations across Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
About 2.6 million passenger trips will be affected across the three provinces with Gauteng alone undertaking 1.5 million passenger trips a day. The order will effectively push all those passenger numbers onto road-based public transportation.
In a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, PRASA said the use of manual authorisation by Metrorail is not by design but arises out of the ongoing attack on the rail infrastructure by thieves who continue to damage signal infrastructure by stealing cables and signalling equipment.
“The scourge of cable theft and the continued support of that theft by clandestine industries continues to cost PRASA and government millions of Rand 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.”
PRASA warned, should the prohibition directive hold, Metrorail can expect a huge backlash from the public that might result in trains being set on fire or vandalised. Millions of passengers who have bought tickets, which are the only tickets they can afford, will be severely affected while Metrorail will be unable to provide alternative transportation or refunds due to the sheer scale of the number of passengers.
“PRASA respects the authority of the Rail Safety Regulator in terms of its powers, notwithstanding that RSR should have still given notice before issuing a prohibition.”
The meeting agreed that PRASA would submit corrective measures to the RSR that wiould ensure the safety of passengers during degraded conditions where manual authorisation is in operation.