Having been victim to an alarming increase in cases of infrastructure vandalism to its overhead electrical lines, electrical substations and station buildings, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (PRASA’s) security team has seized about R10-million worth of stolen cables and other rail equipment in the first week on June.
With help from the South African Police Services (SAPS), PRASA’s business intelligence unit made arrests at a scrap metal dealership's premises, in Pretoria, earlier this week after surveillance and monitoring of the dealership indicated there may be illegal scrap metal on the premises that was sourced from PRASA equipment and property.
The rail agency, led by the SAPS team, ambushed the premises and arrested three suspects, including the owner of the scrap metal dealership.
In 2019, PRASA incurred about R364-million in losses as a result of vandalism and the burning of trains in the Western Cape and Gauteng, the vandalism of power substations and the stealing of electrical cables.
The agency, however, continues to make gains in the fight against vandalism, with a major bust of an illicit ring trading in PRASA cables on February 8 at a house in Ratanda, Heidelburg. Over R2-million worth of items were recovered, while three PRASA employees who were found to be working with the illicit dealers were arrested.
PRASA administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo says the agency is the only affordable public transportation system with the ability to move a large number of South Africans, and that because it is subsidised by the National Treasury, PRASA’s main mandate from government is the operation of passenger rail.
"However, the rise in unprecedented levels of vandalism of our infrastructure, along with the evident growth in the illicit trading of copper and steel on the black market means PRASA must refocus efforts to provide more security manpower using the same amount of money meant for passenger rail improvements and upgrades without any additional revenue or funding,” he says.
Further, the vast open nature of the PRASA network means there are about 370 stations and about 22 300 km of rail network, which Mpondo says makes it difficult for the agency to effectively secure.
“PRASA finds itself overstretched between planning for service to resume and also making good on our commitments to upgrade the system,” he states.
In this regard, Mpondo requests that communities become vigilant and help report acts of vandalism on PRASA’s system.
“If we do not work together, PRASA’s ability to provide affordable public transportation will be in jeopardy, leaving thousands of South Africans faced with the reality of seeking alternative and less affordable services.”