The South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU) issued a statement in mid-August that it calls on the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) to accelerate its modernisation programme in order to improve its service to commuters. According to the union, PRASA wasn’t the lone entity at fault as they went on to say that, “we cannot develop further as a country if we keep having to rebuild and replace infrastructure that has been purposely damaged. As a society we must find better ways of protesting and raising our concerns.”
The statements follow the events of a riot which took place in Johannesburg at Naledi station after trains were delayed. Would-be passengers stoned carriages and set fire to vehicles belonging to Metrorail staff after trains were delayed on Friday morning. Soon after the event PRASA appeared to respond by suspending service for the remainder of the weekend. It claimed, however, that the suspension was due to a ‘cable theft’, but SATAWU members employed at the rail service added to the story by stating that the suspension was related to neither, but was in fact due to infrastructure failure.
The staff stated that a panel had in fact, ‘gone out’ which essentially means that PRASA’s control centre became unable to track the location of a train and therefore would be unable to prevent a collision reliably. This is far from the first time that a signal panel has broken down as the railway continues to face a seeming cascade of such failures, and is tight lipped about the cause or what solution might be implemented.
SATAWU’s statement implies that vandalism may play a role in the loss of these panels, causing delays which in turn lead to increased vandalism from unhappy commuters. SATAWU called on PRASA to accelerate its modernisation programme in order to improve service levels. Earlier in the month PRASA regional manager Richard Walker stated, “We have lost more than 30 coaches in recent weeks. Someone decided they are going to deliberately set our trains alight. They get burnt at night, when it’s empty and quiet. There is a motive.”