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Train service stopped in its tracks

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“This exceeds the 30km/* speed restriction imposed on a line that is operated under manual authorisation”

THE DA has called on Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula to ensure rigorous accountability processes at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) following the strict intervention by the Rail Safety Regulator ordering Prasa-operated Shosholoza Meyl to stop operating with immediate effect.

The Shosholoza Meyl links Kimberley to Bloemfontien, Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.

This decision to suspend the train service comes after a fatal crash on February 12 in which one man was killed and several injured when a Shosholoza Meyl train collided with a goods train in Roodepoort.

In a statement earlier this week, the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR) said it had concluded its preliminary investigation into the crash.

The findings were that the two trains were manually authorised onto the section of the track. The speed data showed that the Prasa train was “travelling at 60km/* at the time of impact”.

“This exceeds the 30km/* speed restriction imposed on a line that is operated under manual authorisation,” the RSR said.

The regulator found that both trains were manually authorised by the Maraisburg Central Traffic Control (CTC) centre, and the authorities for the goods and passenger trains were not countersigned by the section manager.

“The latter is a serious contravention of a special condition that was issued to Prasa by the RSR upon the issuing of the current temporary operating permit. Prasa was placed under judicial supervision and ordered by the court to comply with the conditions imposed on the operating permit. According to this special condition, all manual authorisation must be countersigned by the section managers,” said the RSR.

Because of these factors, the RSR said it had issued Prasa with a “prohibition directive”.

“The directive prohibits all Shosholoza Meyl operations with immediate effect. The safety of commuters and the workforce is our utmost priority.

“The RSR will ensure that Prasa honours this prohibition and manages it in such a manner that it improves levels of safety before the RSR will lift the prohibition,” the regulator said.

The DA’s spokesperson on Transport, Chris Hunsinger, yesterday accused Prasa of demonstrating a total disregard for rail safety in its operations.

“Had the entity performed its duties diligently – the Shosholoza Meyl collision could have been avoided,” said Hunsinger.

He stated that it appeared that Prasa did not have the ability to manage and control risk directives which were issued upon safety inspections by RSR.

“The regulator now seems to be the one having to manage safety controls at Prasa, instead of being responsible to assess risks and protect lives,” Hunsinger said.

“It is no surprise that Prasa is failing to deliver in its most basic duties. The entity has been hamstrung by years of looting, mismanagement, and instability brought on by the appointment of numerous ministers of Transport, who, in turn, appointed a multitude of inept boards and executives. Current Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has all but bailed out of a personally established War Room which hardly lasted half a year, fired the last board and opted for the highly controversial appointment of an administrator to oversee the mess that is Prasa.”

He pointed out that during the period from January 2018 until recently, RSR-issued directives increased from 35 356 to over 150 000 per month. “This is a clear indication that none of the plans, turnaround strategies and interventions bared any fruit to make rail services safer for our commuters and passengers.”