Late changes to the annual report presentation by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) to the parliamentary transport portfolio committee on Tuesday 8 October 2019 were just the tip of the iceberg. MPs wanted to know when the rail service would be fully operational for commuters. This came after a fire at the Glencairn station in Cape Town on Monday afternoon in which two carriages were destroyed and a third damaged.
The mood in the transport committee was not pleasant when officials from Prasa began their presentation of the annual report and financial statements. First, MPs were annoyed when Prasa wanted to present an amended version of the annual report which the committee had no knowledge of until minutes before the presentation.
This irked MPs from the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters. EFF MP Makosini Chabangu wanted Prasa to return at a later stage — once MPs had reviewed the new document.
Committee chair Mosebenzi Zwane eventually allowed the embattled Prasa team to continue with its presentation.
Interim board chair Khanyisile Kweyama said the board was “fully aware of the massive challenges (faced) by Prasa in the 2018/2019 year”. These included issues of good governance, the high rate of commuter dissatisfaction, and the reliability, availability and safety of the passenger rail service.
Financially, the state-owned enterprise looks to be in bad shape, Kweyama admitted. Operating costs were increasing at a rate higher than revenue and subsidies could cover.
“Total revenue was at R 13.7-billion at the end of the financial year, compared with total expenses which stood at R 15.5-billion.”
When MPs finally asked their questions, their concerns were clear: when would Prasa fix the rail service so commuters could have a safe, reliable train ride?
Chris Hunsinger (DA) questioned what the plan was to get Metrorail carriages back on track — of the 4,566 trainsets required, only 2,058 were still operational. This was excluding the effect on trainsets of Monday’s fire.
According to EWN, two carriages caught fire at the Glencairn station near Simon’s Town on Metrorail’s Southern Line. The cause of the fire was not yet known, Prasa’s acting Group CEO Nkosinathi Sishi told Daily Maverick on Tuesday. A third carriage was damaged, said Sishi, who added that at this stage, the damage was estimated at R 8.5-million.
Said ANC MP Lawrence McDonald:
“If this was the aviation industry, Prasa would have been grounded.”
Committee chair Zwane had the last say on the day’s proceedings and Monday’s fire:
“Under normal circumstances, I would have made this meeting very difficult,” Zwane said, but Prasa, despite the challenges, was making “slow progress” that needed to be acknowledged. DM