Commuter trains throughout the Western Cape came to a halt on Thursday as Eskom disconnected power to Metrorail due to unpaid bills, causing transport chaos in the province.
Limited service was restored by late afternoon after the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), which owns Metrorail, arranged for payment to the power utility.
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula announced the restoration of service at a media briefing on Thursday night, where he said his department had turned to National Treasury to help it settle its arrears and resolve the crisis.
Mbalula used the opportunity to implore the finance ministry to heed its pleas to allow PRASA to convert some of its capital to operational funds to keep trains running as the troubled rail agency had depleted its operational budget.
"This would have gone a long way in stabilising PRASA's finances. We must be emphatic that turning around PRASA's fortunes and ensuring successful implementation of our interventions to improve operational performance is intrinsically linked to National Treasury's responsiveness to our representations."
He stressed: "We have got the money [but] our operational expenditure is depleted for PRASA. That is a known record. It is depleted and we have got R18-billion which addresses in the main our programme of modernisation. We believe that it could be converted to alleviate if there is a plan that is financially sustainable.
"We have been able to ensure that the services are restored as we speak to you and we are moving ahead with all our other plans including our engagements with treasury to ensure turn the situation of PRASA around."
PRASA said it had been caught off guard by Eskom's step as the two entities had been in talks regarding the outstanding amount and the timeframe for settling the rail agency's bill.
Eskom was reportedly insisting it be paid for electricity fortnightly.
"Eskom wants PRASA to pay within 14 days of receiving an invoice, which is currently practically impossible. This point has been raised with Eskom and PRASA will reiterate it as we engage with them further," a spokesperson was quoted as saying.
Mbalula earlier this week briefed parliament's portfolio committee on transport on PRASA, and described it as being in a state of collapse after a decade of corruption.
The minister late last year dissolved the interim board of PRASA and appointed Bonginkosi Mpondo as the administrator of the entity for 12 months to put in place measures to turn it around.
The state of the train service has became a political football in the Western Cape. The Democratic Alliance, which is in power in the province, wants PRASA to cede control of Metrorail to metro councils.
Amid the crisis on Thursday afternoon, Cape Town mayor Dan Plato issued a statement calling on PRASA to resolve its problems.
"The closure of Cape Town train station and others across the Western Cape compromises the safe transport of hundreds of thousands of commuters," Plato said.
"The suspension of the service is a further indication that PRASA is unable to successfully run its operations. I urge PRASA to get its house in order and settle its overdue electricity bill with Eskom as a matter of urgency."
"It is unacceptable that our commuters continue to bear the brunt of PRASA’s inept running of the service."