There are a number of areas that require urgent attention within the operations of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), says CEO Zolani Matthews.
Matthews on Tuesday delivered his 100-day report card as new head of the troubled State-owned rail entity.
He noted that PRASA had to restore public transport “that enabled”; implement recovery plans for the central line, in Cape Town, and the Mabopane line, in Gauteng; ensure that the rail body’s operational performance met the required standards; and restore fiscal discipline at the cash-strapped organisation.
“We must manage our costs which are currently posing huge challenges and risks to the organisation,” said Matthews.
He noted that it was also important to ensure the availability of train sets, which included looking at refurbishing the old rolling stock, as well as the availability of new train sets from Gibela so that these could be brought into service.
“We must ensure service reliability to avoid the situation of cancellations without warning that leaves commuters stranded.”
However, most urgent of all these priorities was the issue of security, said Matthews.
He noted that adequate, comprehensive, “properly deployed security modelled on modern security systems around the world” was needed to battle the security and vandalism issues faced at PRASA.
Matthews said the vandalism bill at the rail operator totalled around R4-billion over the past few years, with around R1-billion of this accrued over the last 12 months.
“Security remains a critical aspect of the rail service. To this end various measures were introduced, including the in-sourcing of security functions with 3 100 employees recruited.
“We will be issuing to the market contracts for private security to support the work we are doing in this space.”
He emphasised that PRASA needed to follow “modern interventions” and that it would include the deployment of technology “as a force multiplier” to protect its assets.
“In this regard procurement processes have commenced. We are looking at sourcing different technology options, which will assist us to move away for old security plans, and focus on modern interventions.
“I have also enlisted the services on short-term contracts of additional security experts to focus on some of our security challenges and threats.
“Their initial assessment has been quite revealing and we will soon make serious pronouncements around their work.”
Gibela Late with Train Deliveries
Train manufacturer Gibela in 2013 signed a R53-billion contract to supply PRASA with 600 six-car trains for its Metrorail service by 2028. The Gibela shareholders are Alstom (61%), Ubumbano Rail (30%) and New Africa Rail (9%).
Gibela also has a contract to deliver post-delivery train maintenance and technical support to PRASA, and to manufacture and supply spare parts.
Matthews noted that Gibela was behind schedule in the delivery of new train sets to PRASA.
“Gibela may have to deal with certain issues around the late delivery of trains. We have a team from PRASA that meets on a weekly basis [with Gibela] to discuss these issues. Covid-19 has had a very debilitating effect on delivery and Gibela is in the process of catching up.”
Matthews said it was not yet finalised if Gibela would incur any penalties, noting that discussions were talking place in a “workmanlike, cordial manner”.
He noted that Gibela was an integral part of PRASA’s ability to create a future footprint into the rest of Africa.
“We consider the long-term sustainability and viability of that business as being key to our ability to put new trains into our network in the next few years,” he added.