Transport minister Fikile Mbalula, left, and Prasa CEO Zolani Matthews. Picture: ANTONIO MUCHAVE
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula, left, and Prasa CEO Zolani Matthews. Picture: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula on Monday said close to 27% of the department’s budget would be allocated to the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) in the medium term to improve its dilapidated infrastructure and increase the number of operating trains.

“The investment we are making in passenger rail is part of the implementation of our overarching rail-to-road strategy, which is crucial towards positioning rail as the backbone of our public transport system. 

“While Prasa has struggled for many years to roll out its modernisation programme due to chronic challenges, we have no doubt that our interventions will place Prasa on a stable footing,” Mbalula said at an oversight visit to the agency’s vandalised stations in Gauteng. 

The modernisation programme was meant to improve the reliability of services by reconstructing dilapidated infrastructure, securing it and increasing the number of trains to avoid overcrowding, Mbalula said.

“It therefore entails focused spending on repairs and maintenance as part of Prasa’s rolling stock fleet renewal programme, as well as improved the security system.

“The recent appointment of a permanent board and CEO for Prasa is not only expected to lead to the intensified implementation of its modernisation programme, but will accelerate the process of building requisite capacity to ensure that it remains a viable entity,” the minister said.

Mbalula said the challenges at Prasa “include leadership instability, a lack of critical skills, an organisational structure that is not responsive to the needs of the agency and vandalism and theft of rail infrastructure. Prasa has also been negatively affected by inadequate and outdated rolling stock and infrastructure and financial mismanagement.

“To address all these challenges and turn around the business of Prasa, key strategic interventions have been prioritised and their implementation accelerated.

“The rise of vandalism and theft of critical infrastructure components [has reached] unprecedented levels, and at its core is the illicit trading of copper and steel on the black market. The vandalism and theft of rail infrastructure has been occurring for a long time and took a rise during the Covid-19 lockdown.”

He said train services had to be suspended as part of the measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“As we committed to returning to service our rail operations, we have identified the following corridors as priority corridors for service recovery this financial year. 

“The impact of the Covid-19 restrictions exposed the vulnerability of our network, resulting in occupation of the rail reserve by people who built illegal settlements on the tracks and inside the reserve. This was worsened by the destruction, theft and vandalism of our infrastructure,” Mbalula said.

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