South Africa

TRAIN DIS-SERVICE

‘Prasa War Room’ paying dividends, insists Mbalula

‘Prasa War Room’ paying dividends, insists Mbalula
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula speaks to journalists as he embarked on a train ride between Khayelitsha and Langa on Tuesday morning where he was faced with delays and train cancellations. Photo: Suné Payne, 25 June 2019

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula is ‘elated’ at progress made by passenger train service Prasa, despite faltering train service.

Despite train services being disrupted for almost a week in some parts of the country, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula says he is elated at the progress the passenger train service has achieved since launching the War Room 14 weeks ago.

Mbalula told the media on Monday that the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (Prasa’s) on-time train performance had improved to 63% in the afternoon peak times, from about 49% when he launched the performance improvement intervention in August.

When we launched the Prasa War Room on 8 August 2019, we made a firm commitment that this intervention must result in improved customer experience for the citizens who use Prasa services every day,” said Mbalula on Monday 4 November 2019 at a media briefing in Johannesburg.

The War Room is a 30-week intervention to help Prasa recover lost capabilities, which resulted in train delays due to infrastructure breakdowns and lack of maintenance.

As Mbalula was expressing his joy at what he said was a brilliant performance by the train operator, commuters on Prasa’s Central Line in the Western Cape have been without train services to ferry them to work for the past four days, reports Daily Maverick’s Sune Payne. “The line has been cancelled due to delays, cable theft and electrical issues.” The Central Line is Prasa subsidiary Metrorail’s busiest route in the region.

Metrorail said in a service advisory that trains on the Kapteinsklip and Chris Hani lines will “remain suspended while maintenance crews repair essential overhead electrical infrastructure between Langa/Nyanga”.

Since the end of October, Prasa had also had to rely on its own internal security unit and the South African Police Service as it cancelled all security contracts across the country. The interim group chief executive officer, Nkosinathi Sishi, said the contracts were cancelled because they had been procured irregularly by the previous board and management.

Admitting that not everything was going as well as the department would like, Mbalula said a lot of work to restore the country’s only passenger train operator to a reliable level of services.

The high levels of customer dissatisfaction and a decline in passenger patronage, mostly attributable to, amongst other issues, safety and high levels of crime and vandalism, as well as unpredictable service, require serious and urgent attention,” said Mbalula.

Prasa is the single largest mode of transport available to commuters in the urban areas of Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-NataI, responsible for the transportation of more than 2.5 million people daily.

Indeed, a lot of progress has been made since the inception of the War Room, but we are not where we want to be,” said Mbalula at the media briefing, flanked by the department’s director-general, interim chief executive Nkosinathi Sishi and board chairman Khanyisile Kweyama.

Mbalula said Prasa had also introduced a morning peak train service between Pienaarspoort and Pretoria stations in Gauteng. “Since the introduction of this service, passenger numbers have increased to more than 51,000. Paying passengers increased from a mere 39% to more than 90%, whilst on-time performance on this corridor has increased to 96%,” said the minister.

While Mbalula highlighted the appointments of three executives over the past three months, he admitted that he has missed his self-imposed end-October deadline to appoint a permanent board of directors.

Since 2017, Prasa has been overseen by interim boards, with the current one being in place since April 2018. Also, the utility has been without a properly appointed chief executive since Lucky Montana resigned in 2015.

Mbalula kicked the can down the road, saying he will now appoint a board before the end of 2019. DM

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