Q&A with Railway Safety Regulator acting CEO Tshepo Kgare

A preliminary report by the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) on the Pretoria North crash says rail agency Prasa has shown total disregard for rail safety

13 January 2019 - 00:00 By Chris Baron

A preliminary report by the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) on the Pretoria North crash says rail agency Prasa has shown total disregard for rail safety.
You suspended Prasa's safety permit last year. Did you give it back too quickly?
We requested them to show us how they're managing the risks that we identified. Based on the assurances we received we felt it was fair to give them an opportunity to demonstrate that they have the will and commitment to manage safety.
Why haven't you monitored this?
We have.
So why have they been able to get away with flouting regulations?
The heart of the problem is the safety culture at Prasa, which is a real concern. The nature of the accidents that have happened is mainly human factors, people not acting in the way they should. Which is why we emphasised the need for improved management when they are operating under manual authorisation.
You stipulated there should be proper control and supervision by a train control officer?
Yes.
Yet this doesn't seem to have happened?
We are not ignorant of some of the challenges Prasa experiences, but that doesn't mean we want to give them a free pass on lack of accountability.
Given their record, a free pass is exactly what they've had, surely?
They haven't had a free pass. That's why we suspended their permit.
And then gave it back to them?
After they gave us the assurances and commitments we required. A few months later we then had the collision. When we did the investigation it became evident that they were not complying .
If you'd been monitoring their compliance, wouldn't you have picked this up?
Remember, we're not at a control centre 24 hours a day. We do inspections with the resources that we have.
Are you under-resourced?
Ordinarily we should be able to do the work with the resources we have, but given the challenges we have at Prasa . the safety culture is poor. We have emphasised the need for Prasa management to make sure supervision is in place.
Shouldn't your 2017-18 report detailing more than 1,000 collisions and 450 derailments in a year have told you Prasa needed to be more closely monitored?
Sixty percent of our time is spent on Prasa. But to change a safety culture you need leadership. We've issued reports to one group CEO, and then a few months later you've got another group CEO. So we've constantly been speaking to different people. We don't even have one CEO we have a long enough history with to say, "We're going to hold you to account for the following things."
You stipulated that trains under manual authorisation can't exceed 30km/h, but the evidence suggests this one was going way faster. Also a lack of monitoring?
We have introduced measures as far as we can to limit the speed they can travel, and demand they have supervision. What happens in practice is something we normally pick up in audits .
Will you press charges of criminal negligence against any Prasa executives?
I will be making very strong recommendations to the minister, because clearly Prasa has shown blatant disregard for the regulator...

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