PRASA's woes must be resolved so that it can deliver cheaper, safe and reliable public transport to South Africa's working class, former ANC MP Leonard Ramatlakane said shortly after he was named as the new chairman of the embattled entity.
"All the wrong things must be dealt with and we must restore reliability, punctuality, safety and affordability to our trains," he told African News Agency (ANA).
"Currently (commuters) pay more than 10% of their salaries to public transport. Now that cannot be. We must stop that, because cheaper rail services must be the heartbeat of public transport."
Ramatlakane will chair the first permanent board the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa has had since 2017, when the term of Popo Molefe came to an end.
His appointment, along with that of board members Smanga Sethene, Matodzi Mukhuba, Boitumelo Mokgoko, Dinkwanyane Mohuba, Alison Lewis, Nosizwe Nokwe-Macamo and Thinavhuyo Mpye, was announced by Cabinet.
Ramatlakane is a former MEC for transport, public works and community safety in the Western Cape and a former ANC chief whip in Parliament. He briefly defected from the ANC to join the Congress of the People before going back to the ruling party in 2013.
He conceded that returning PRASA to its mission statement was set to be a challenge.
Only 12 of the entity's 34 commuter rail corridors are operational at the moment, though it hopes to restore service to another nine soon.
The new board was announced a day after PRASA executives told MPs there would be a delay of one year in resuming partial electrical rail service to Cape Town's Central line and Gauteng's Mabopane-Pretoria line.
Until then, the lines will run on diesel – the result of grand-scale theft of electric cables and vandalism of stations and lines that intensified during South Africa's Covid-19 lockdown after security contracts were cancelled in April.
PRASA group executive Badisa Matshego said the refurbishment of infrastructure could not commence until a comprehensive new security system, comprising 3,100 people and surveillance equipment including a drone system, had been put in place.
National Treasury earlier this week approved a special virement of R900-million ($55-million) for this purpose.
Though the PRASA team conceded that deadlines were a moving target, it is now expected that full service on the Central line, which has been closed since October 2019, would only be restored in 2022. The government has promised R1.4-billion each for the refurbishment of the two lines.
PRASA, which has been described by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula as "broken", was expected to register a financial loss of R757-million this year.
Its 11-year history has been marked by disastrous management and allegations of corruption, including the R2-billion procurement of Spanish-made locomotives that were never put into use but auctioned off at a loss because they were too tall for South Africa's rail infrastructure.