Prasa trains in a state

Cromet Molepo, the acting group chief executive of the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), allegedly disregarded advice from the Treasury and hired locomotives from a private company over the festive season.

Documents obtained by City Press show that Molepo, who was appointed early last month, approved the “emergency hiring” of locomotives from Premifield – going against Treasury’s advice not to deviate from the normal tender processes.

In a memo sent by the executive manager of Mainline Passenger Services, Mthuthuzeli Swartz, on December 14, Swartz asks Molepo to approve the “emergency hiring of locomotives” for the December holiday period.

But on December 11, Treasury supply chain management chief director Solly Tshitangano declined Prasa’s request.

On December 11, Tshitangano wrote to then Prasa acting group chief executive Lindikhaya Zide, denying their request to “shorten the tender period” and negotiate directly with the supplier, saying their reasons were “not justifiable” and Treasury did not support direct negotiations.

“Prasa must advertise a bid for a least 14 days,” Tshitangano wrote.

However, on December 14, Swartz wrote to Molepo asking for “emergency hiring of locomotives” over the holiday period.

Molepo responded: “Proceed immediately with the procurement process to ensure stability of our service.”

The cost of hiring 10 locomotives for 45 days is R15.7m.

Swartz’s memo paints a bleak picture of the state of the country’s passenger rail service, saying it had only “36 locomotives” to run the entire service, down from 124 in 2009.

“Even these are not the right type for all of them to be used as hauling trains. Some are just used for shunting in the yards.”

He wrote that the ones used to haul trains often failed and “we are forced to depend on Transnet to run our service”, he wrote.

“Transnet is charging Prasa exorbitant prices, which undermine the profitability of the service. This has forced Mainline Passenger Services to reduce the number of trains that we run from more than 6 000 trains to the current 1 872 trains over the years.”

Swartz said the continued failure of their locomotives upset customers and “will have a detrimental effect on passenger’s travelling plans”. Swartz asked Molepo to approve its short-term hiring plan over the festive season.

“Treasury has been engaged in November to approve direct engagement with Premifield. This was not approved and Treasury recommends that Prasa go out on open tender.”

Swartz said this would be done this month after the festive period, which ends on January 15.

By December 14, Swartz said their normal schedule was already sold out and seats on additional trains were almost sold out.

The Christmas weekend brought much pressure to bear on their capacity, he said.

“We need the reliable locos from Premifield to cope with pressure. Without these hired locos, our capacity will be overstretched and we will not be able to cope and might be forced to cancel the additional trains that we have introduced.”

Hiring additional locomotives, he said, would “stabilise the current performance of Mainline Passenger Services, the locos of which are prone to failure”, “improve the perception of Mainline Passenger Services, which is notorious for late arrivals as well as departures because of faulty locomotives” and “take away the need to use buses to complete the journey”.

Swartz said Premifield charged far less than Transnet Freight Rail for the hire of their locomotives – “an hourly rate of just over R1 000, while Transnet Freight Rail charges R1 859 to R3 594 for similar locos”.

Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani confirmed that they hired the locomotives from Premifield “due to the shortage and unreliability of the current locomotives and the urgency of peak-time trading”.

Zenani said Prasa, as an organ of state, was allowed to do so “on an urgent basis for the short term. Prasa made a decision to embark on a lease agreement, but it was not illegally done,” she said.

“Zide approved the hiring of locomotives towards the beginning of the peak period.”

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