Prasa battles with costs, inefficiency

2011-05-26 07:15

Johannesburg – The two recent Gauteng train accidents alone will cost the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) about R55 million.

In the year up until the end of March, another eight accidents occurred across the country. Prasa has now said “enough is enough”.

It is going to take harsher action against workers disregarding the rules.

The driver who caused last week’s accident in Soweto was dismissed after a preliminary investigation found that he had been driving 85km/h in a 30km/h zone. Almost 900 people were injured in the incident.

The accident occurred after the driver had received a suspended sentence for another transgression less than four weeks earlier.

Lucky Montana, Prasa’s chief executive, said that any drivers who had violated safety rules in the past three to six months would be taken out of service and sent on refresher courses.

Another 19 drivers are now being charged with various contraventions. If found guilty they will be discharged, said Montana.

He said the group hoped to reappoint retired train drivers to act as mentors for the new generation of drivers.

Requests are being sent out in the respective regions to determine possible interest.

Every day Prasa operates 2 200 trains and transports up to 2.4 million people across the country.

In the year up until the end of March, Prasa had eight train accidents. It has since been rocked by another two serious accidents in Pretoria and Joburg, in which 2 500 people were injured.

The latter two accidents will cost Prasa about R55 million. This includes R35 million for damages to trains and infrastructure and R20 million which the group has set aside to compensate injured commuters.

Both accidents were caused by “driver negligence” said Prasa.

Chris de Vos, general secretary of Prasa’s largest trade union, Utatu, said drivers were however not the only factors contributing to the number of accidents.

The train systems are old and dilapidated, he said. If Prasa’s metro trains had used new technology neither of the latest accidents would have happened. In both cases the drivers had ignored red signals.

Montana said the drivers should have stopped, but did not. In the Pretoria accident the driver died.

De Vos said that in both cases new technology would have automatically stopped the trains if a signal was ignored.

Government was planning to upgrade metro train services over the next 18 years, he said.

But this will take too long and many more train accidents can be expected in South Africa.

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