The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) has unveiled a comprehensive strategy to revive South Africa’s passenger rail network after crime and vandalism over the last few years have left the network crippled.
CEO Zolani Matthews addressed delegates virtually during the 2021 Southern African Transport Conference on July 5, expressing confidence that key rail corridors could be secured by partnering with all rail stakeholders – commuters, communities and businesses.
He highlighted the need for PRASA to refurbish rolling stock and get new trains through the agency’s renewal programme, but not without investing in maintenance of the system and ensuring the safety of people using it.
Matthews outlined an eight-point plan for PRASA subsidiary Metrorail to address criminal activity and minimise disruptions to commuter services.
An innovative part of the plan involves forming cooperatives with communities along rail corridors to provide cleaning services at stations. Communities will be empowered with training and business management skills by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure.
“We have already seen that the stations where workers are located helps to provide protection from vandalism and theft,” said Matthews.
He added that these stations consistently adhere to cleanliness standards and provide employment for youth and women, creating inclusive growth and participation in the economy. This creates a sense of ownership and pride for communities.
Matthews said PRASA was also part of a CEO advocacy group, along with power utility Eskom, telecommunications group Telkom and freight logistics group Transnet, that is working to have infrastructure theft classified as a serious crime and economic sabotage.
A dedicated police division to deal with infrastructure crime was another approach, as was regulating the scrap metal market and training law enforcement to deal with infrastructure theft.
A joint operational centre would also be set up, coordinating relevant government departments and State agencies to prioritise cable and infrastructure crimes.
Matthews said renewal initiatives would prioritise ten urban rail corridors in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape for major rehabilitation and recovery.
Moreover, he explained that capital investment and recovery projects would be consolidated under a single programme manager to break down silos and to encourage an understanding of rail corridors as a business asset.
PRASA would continue to modernise rail through digitalisation of signalling, a recycling programme, automatic train protection systems, electronic authorisation and using digital data for predictive maintenance.
“Transport planning needs to be in sync with spatial development. We should focus on creating smart cities, with quality, robust public transport systems that will reduce congestion, fossil fuel use and road crashes.
“By planning well, working together, taking ownership around successes and failures, we will see passenger rail take its rightful place at the heart of the transport network of the future,” said Matthews.