State-owned Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) on Thursday said it would soon be “uninsurable” if criminal activity, leading to-millions of rands in loss and damage, was not halted.
Cromet Molepo, the acting group chief executive for PRASA made the comments at a media briefing in Durban on Thursday afternoon.
The briefing was called following the torching of three coaches, allegedly by angry commuters, at the city’s Berea Station on Wednesday evening. The estimated damage from the incident is R10-million.
Molepo said that for the 2016/17 financial year, PRASA’s total insurance claims amounted to R292-million, while premiums in the same period had doubled to R78-million.
“This year, we are starting to negotiate new insurance policies but we are getting to a stage where we will be uninsurable if we don’t make progress in arresting the attack on the system,” he said.
He said government has set aside R172-billion over 10 years for upgrades to the country’s decades-old rail infrastructure and coaches, but added that while this takes place, criminal elements burn and vandalise coaches and infrastructure for copper cabling or items for their homes, such as coach seats for couches.
“The losses for March/April 2017 to…[now]…are already at R442-million. This includes floods and washaways in KZN,” he said.
Molepo said that 80 coaches a month were lost to vandalism.
“In KwaZulu-Natal, we are supposed to be running 57 train sets. We are running 44, and of these, they are not complete configurations; instead of 12 coaches, there are six, which results in overcrowding.”
Only 5% of those involved in the criminal activities were successfully prosecuted, he said, because PRASA’s technical teams destroyed evidence when they attempted to fix the faults, leading to suspects being charged with lesser crimes.
“If there is an incident in our railways, we have to cordon off the area and call forensics to collect evidence. So this means people must be ready that if the system is not protected, if commuters and communities sit and watch while trains are destroyed, everything will have to come to a standstill while we call the police to collect evidence. That is the reality. Enough is enough,” he said.
However, said Molepo, the “good news” was that 20 Brazilian manufactured train sets had been absorbed into the system last year in metros, free wifi would soon be provided and the Go Metro app and “rail radio” for each corridor were being introduced to improve communication with passengers.
Other initiatives included the introduction of closed-circuit television, on coaches and the possibility of a railway police unit being created within the South African Police Service, which would end PRASA’s reliance on 3 000 private security guards.