“Timetables have become decorations on the Metrorail boards”
An open letter to PRASA and the Department of Transport
This is an edited version of an open letter sent by Phumulani Ndlovu of the Iketsetse Traders Association to the Passenger Rail Association of South Africa and the Department of Transport on 2 October.
It’s a sad day as we celebrate transport month. Sad because today we won’t be out inviting the public to use public transport especially the metro trains. Over the years we have seen the Metrorail service deteriorating and the infrastructure has decayed so that most times you don’t feel safe being in a train.
As an informal trader on trains and stations I have witnessed the changes little by little. I remember during the festive season a Metrorail that fixed its infrastructure. This was done annually and there were very few hookups and derailments at that time.
We are in an era where PRASA is struggling to have running trains. The operational system has collapsed and the timetables have become decorations on the Metrorail boards.
One of the worst decisions that Metrorail took was to reduce security. This opened the company to a lot of risks like:
1. Vandalism: Security on platforms was removed and placed on cable patrol. But that opened the company to a lot of vandalism on the platforms and to this day we don’t have operational toilets on platforms. If they are operational they are in a bad state.
2. Reduced security on trains has left the commuters at the mercy of armed criminals. It’s a wonder that the drivers can still move trains without being killed because trains have become soft targets and a haven for criminals. Places like Park Station and Dorenfontein are the most unsafe stations as you can lose your phone or valuables in the blink of an eye.
3. Metrorail assets are not protected. Hence today we are travelling with trains without windows. It is easy to get access to any train yard. We have suffered for someone’s failure to protect assets of the company.
The Gauteng Nerve Centre has been a pain to the commuters as the monitoring of trains is not done properly. Metrorail can run an express service over a two hour period and forget about the commuters that are in between the express stations. The technical support for faulty trains is not sufficient and it looks like it’s not being addressed as it has been on going for a while.
As we embark on transport month celebrations, here are some of the requests for PRASA and the Department of Transport to consider:
Get funding or relook at your budgets and come up with an accelerated infrastructure program that will address the current challenges of power failures, broken points and tracks. The reality is that manual authorisations are not helping you but taking you ten steps back.
Metrorail needs a maintenance plan as in most stations drains are blocked, toilets are not working (Germiston has about 15 but none are functional), and in some instances you cannot see the rail sleepers because the gravel has covered them.
Lights at stations: most stations don’t have lights. Only major stations have lights, and in some cases like Germiston you find platforms that have gone for months without lights, stations like Boksburg and Kempton Park subway are not safe.
- Can Metrorail protect their assets? Trains and yards need to be protected.
- Put security on the platforms. This will reduce vandalism and fare evasion. Don’t take security guards from small stations and deploy them elsewhere, but increase the number of security guards because the reality is that you need them.
- Protect your commuters by having mobile units on the trains to safeguard them, especially on late and off-peak trains as they are targets of criminals. The mobile units will protect your personnel also as they operate in unsafe conditions.
- There is a serious need for a dialogue of stakeholders on operational matters, on the Vereeniging via Meyerton corridor, and the breakdown of the PRASA and Transnet relationship.
- PRASA should mend its relationship with Transnet as this could be beneficial to commuters. Imagine if PRASA had locomotives at strategic points to pull trains in cases of power failure? This has been done before and it worked.
- Improve communication to commuters. In most cases we don’t get the same message from Metrorail.
- Stakeholder engagements must be improved. PRASA does have a relationship with the commuter forum but such a relationship must be extended to commuters. Metrorail must engage commuters more on their challenges through imbizos.
- The relationship between SAPS and the Metrorail protection service must be improved. We need to see more joint operations.
- The relationship between informal traders and PRASA must be improved also. The traders are the eyes and ears of Metrorail, and there needs to be proper control on those authorised to trade.
As this is Transport month can I request the PRASA management and the Department of Transport management to use public transport for the month of October. Will the executive subject itself to lateness daily?
Views expressed are not necessarily GroundUp’s.
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