Q&A with Prasa chief strategy officer Dr Sipho Sithole
President Cyril Ramaphosa was stranded on a train for three hours during an ANC election drive. Chris Barron asked the group chief strategy officer at the Passenger Rail Agency of SA, Dr Sipho Sithole.
How did you feel about leaving the president high and dry?
No, we didn't do that.
He was stranded in one of your trains for three hours, wasn't he?
The president experienced the day-to-day challenges of commuters.
He said heads would roll. Have any heads rolled?
We saw that in the media. I'm sure that would be communicated to the minister and the board, but nothing has been communicated to Prasa.
Should heads roll?
Prasa has experienced these challenges over a period of time. What we see on our network epitomises the criminality and lawlessness this country is seeing.
Did you tell the president you can't run a decent train service if there is no law and order?
We've been appealing to the government to say Prasa is not a crime-combating agency, Prasa is a passenger operator. If the government does not help us combat crime, we are going to experience these challenges.
Do you have a strategy to deal with these challenges?
We have our turnaround strategy.
Why isn't it working?
It is working.
Why are trains still getting stuck?
We have been replacing stolen cables and they get stripped the following day.
So what's your plan? To keep replacing cables every day?
We've used palisade fencing, they cut it. Now we're doing concrete walls, 4m high. But it's a vast network and criminals move from one area to another. We are saying to the president, "these are the real issues on the ground".
To what extent is this about Prasa's own internal problems?
We used to have more than 14,000 railway police, now we have less than 4,000. That tells you where the problem is.
What are you doing about it?
We can only do what we can. The rest is about the government realising and acknowledging the massive problem this country has and then making sure the infrastructure is protected so that we can focus on running trains.
How serious are you about safety?
As serious as acknowledging how important operational safety is.
Why does the regulator say Prasa has no regard for rail safety?
l can't speak on their behalf. But if criminals strip infrastructure you are exposing passengers to serious danger. If that matter is not addressed, not only by Prasa, safety will always be a major concern
Is it time to let provinces that can run their own trains?
That is not a Prasa decision. We have a mandate to transport commuters. That's our mandate.
Haven't you demonstrated that you can't fulfil it?
The trains must run on a network that is not vandalised. If law enforcement can help us combat crime we'd be having a different discussion.
To what extent is maladministration and corruption at Prasa to blame?
We're dealing with that. People are being taken through disciplinary processes.