TRAIN SAFETY

Railway Safety Regulator: What are you doing as trains get more dangerous, MPs ask

By Suné Payne 10 October 2019
Caption
The scene where a passenger train derailed on August 19, 2015 in Kimberley, South Africa.(Photo by Gallo Images / Beeld / Emile Hendricks)

In 2018/19, 284 people died after being struck by trains. When people face aged infrastructure, assaults, crime and death on South African trains, MPs questioned what the Railway Safety Regulator was doing to keep commuters safe.

When the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) appeared before Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Transport this week, the message was clear: what are you doing to keep the railways safe? This came as MPs interrogated the entity’s financial statements.

The regulator, which is mandated to issue and manage safety permits for rail operators such as the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) and Transnet, quickly came under fire from MPs over the elephant in the room: the challenges commuters — their constituents — face while travelling on the rail network in South Africa.

ANC MP Nkosinathi Mangcu told the delegation from the regulator, including its CEO and Chief Financial Officer, that keeping the railways safe “has been a dismal failure”.

It’s not surprising — in the entity’s State of Safety Report 2018/2019, there had been 9,268 reported security-related incidents across South African railways. Additionally, there were 223 reported injuries as a result of being struck by a train.

The United National Transport Union (Untu) has described the safety regulator as “reckless” to allow “the trains of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa to continue playing Russian roulette with the lives of its employees and commuters”. Untu represents employees at Prasa and Transnet and has been a vocal critic of both Prasa and the safety regulator. 

Untu’s general secretary  Steve Harris said earlier in October, after the release of the State of Safety Report: 

The RSR knows that it will take decades to fix our ruined rail infrastructure at this rate. Its annual rail safety report should be called the annual derail report with a shocking 36% increase in fatalities due to security-related occurrences, 23% increase in injuries due to operational occurrences and a 20% increase in security-related incidents.”

But back to the transport committee and MPs’ worries over commuter safety. The EFF’s Nontando Nolutshungu asked, “when are you going to bring back safety?” Another asked if the safety regulator was part of Prasa’s War Room.

The safety regulator’s acting CEO Tshepo Kgare told the committee the entity was not part of the War Room and “occurrences (are) a symptom of a much larger issue”. While the safety regulator’s primary mandate is to provide safety, Kgare said, security was a secondary mandate. She said the safety regulator worked with the South African Police Services Rapid Rail Unit to provide security. DM

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