Prasa is a mess and there's no quick fix, new administrator admits

23 January 2020 - 16:13 By Aron Hyman
Passenger Rail Agency of SA administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, on January 23 2020.
Passenger Rail Agency of SA administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, on January 23 2020.
Image: Aron Hyman

“Prasa is broken. We will fix it.”

These were the catchiest sentences to emerge from the mouth of Passenger Rail Agency of SA administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo during an otherwise sombre media engagement in Cape Town on Thursday.

It took place at a community centre opposite Khayelitsha station, which hasn't seen a train for months.

Services on Cape Town's busiest commuter route, the central line, were cancelled last year after sustained theft, arson and vandalism.

Cape Town now has only 33 trains, just more than a third of the number Metrorail needs to run an adequate service.

It is not willing to risk the remaining rolling stock on a line where live cables dangle across the tracks and where a train is vulnerable to armed criminals if it breaks down.

Mpondo said that will all change by September. Over the next nine months, Prasa will begin the rollout of a three-phase plan to stabilise the operator, secure the line and resume a limited service on the central line, he said.

A full service will only be operational by April next year, when 10 of Prasa's new and “more robust” trains will be run on the line as a pilot.

Mpondo said 10 security firms whose contracts were deemed irregular by the Prasa interim board have been given a month's notice and by February new contractors will be brought in.

Fencing, visible patrols and enhanced security on trains were key to securing the success of the service, he said, because constant attacks on railway infrastructure had taken large chunks from their operational budget.

“We are saddled with a business that is broken. This is due to an erosion that has taken place systematically over a period of time,” he said.

“We are trying to bring a semblance of order in our operations.”

Mpondo's first engagement with commuters came on the 45th day after his appointment on December 9.

He promised a candid approach and said commuter engagements would become commonplace. He wanted to be open about Prasa's problems in a bid to avoid the media's reliance on leaked information.

“We've got very serious challenges in the service and together with the commuters we should be able to find solutions,” he said.

“What we seek to do is deliver value to our commuters and ensure they have a pleasant commuter experience, and I think for the most part over the past few years we've pretty much failed on that score.

Metrorail regional manager Richard Walker said part of the new approach would include sensitising commuters and changing their behaviour in an attempt to reduce vandalism of stations and trains.

Stations would also be upgraded and include new security features and more guards, said Walker.

Once the new trains were running on the central line, older trains would beef up services on the northern and southern lines.