State-owned Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) has issued a statement clarifying a number of issues raised in an article published in the Sunday Times on January 23.
PRASA stated that, with regard to the issue of the leasing of the diesel locomotives for the long-distance train service, the agency in May 2021 approached the National Treasury to apply for a deviation in the leasing of locomotives needed to operate the long-distance rail service, with a list of six companies sent to the Treasury.
The Treasury approved the deviation on condition that PRASA go out on a closed bidding process with all six bidders who submitted proposals in the previous procurement process while PRASA issues a new bidding process.
In October 2021, a letter of appointment of Premifield was signed by then Group CEO Zolani Matthews for the leasing of seven diesel locomotives for 11 months, PRASA explained.
“It is incorrect to suggest that the appointment letter was signed days after he had left as suggested in the Sunday Times,” PRASA stated.
The article also indicated that the contract value was R130-million, which PRASA said suggested that this was the cost to PRASA for the month of December.
“This is not the case, as we are still waiting for invoices for the festive season service. It is premature at this stage to state exactly how much was spent on the leasing of the locomotives.
“It is also not true that Main Line Passenger Services (MLPS) is stuck with locomotives it cannot use. The service will continue with the next trip to the Eastern Cape scheduled for this Friday, January 28,” PRASA states.
The MLPS resumed its Shosholoza Meyl long-distance train service on December 15, in time for the Christmas holiday travel-peak from Johannesburg to East London and Johannesburg to Gqeberha, both ways, PRASA noted.
It points out that no train service operated to Cape Town, as suggested by the Sunday Times article.
“The article quoted [a passenger], who travelled with his ailing mother to Cape Town. While we are in no position to comment on his experience of the service, we can categorically state that there was no train service to Cape Town during the festive season,” PRASA stated.
PRASA added that while the service in December started well, the trains experienced several challenges and disruptions on the route, and said most of these challenges were beyond the control of MLPS.
Some of the challenges included train delays for about six to eight hours, with most trains taking more than 24 hours to reach their destinations, resulting in trips having been completed by buses at no additional cost to the passengers.
PRASA highlighted that a train trip from Johannesburg to East London takes 18 hours, while a train trip to Gqeberha is 19-and-a-half hours.
It said the delays were caused by continuous theft and vandalism of overhead cables and faulty signalling owing to the cable theft, leaving the trains to be controlled manually.
“This, unfortunately, meant more time was needed for information to be processed before any movement could be allowed,” PRASA lamented.
It also mentioned that the Eastern Cape route operates on Transnet lines and that the responsibility for ensuring that lines are operational lies with Transnet.
“The Transnet lines which Shosholoza Meyl operated on were also affected by theft and vandalism. Transnet has committed to restoring the vandalised infrastructure on its lines.
“Our security was also deployed to assist with the protection of infrastructure and the safety of our passengers,” PRASA stated, highlighting several measures to mitigate the situation, including information updates, the provision of food, alternative transportation and a train for some passengers’ luggage.
PRASA emphasised that MLPS needed to improve on its on-time performance and reliability to recover lost patronage and to continue offering this social service.
PRASA said that, despite these challenges, MLPS continued providing the service to its customers owing to the demand for a low-cost, affordable long-distance travel service during the December and January peak period, and that cancelling the service was not an option.
PRASA also highlighted the importance of minimising acts of theft and vandalism for this service to continue to run.
“It is only when a line is inactive, with no trains moving, that criminals see our infrastructure as up for taking. A busy line serves as a deterrent for criminals to conduct any acts of criminal activity,” PRASA stated.