Government accepts DA proposal to changes to railway safety

Please find attached English and Afrikaans soundbites by Chris Hunsinger MP.

The DA is overjoyed that our proposal to completely overhaul the legislation which currently governs railway safety was unanimously accepted amongst all political parties in the parliamentary portfolio committee for transport yesterday. The motion of desirability will allow for the total replacement of the current National Railway Safety Regulator Act which was approved nearly 20 years ago.

The objectives and conditions have changed considerably since the inception of the original Act when the primary goal was to establish a legal framework for the current railway safety regulator (RSR). Ever since it was the RSR’s role to execute safety functions within the passenger and freight train environment through support, monitoring and enforcement which, in the view of the DA urgently needs review as the RSR’s mandate has not been updated since 2009.

One of the major issues which the DA has repeatedly highlighted was the conflict of interest of the RSR’s income structure. The regulator currently derives its income from a penalty fee structure by issuing fines to railway operators. This has resulted in recent years’ trend of a near totally dysfunctional PRASA/Metrorail/Shosholoza and TRANSNET Freight service while the RSR’s financial income stream lately, exceeded all expectation. This is mainly due to the RSR issuing fines for unsafe conditions and rather than addressing the danger, fines are gladly paid.

Railway safety affecting passengers and commuters, also cargo and assets cannot be exposed to this ridiculous approach any longer. It has become clear that the relationship between RSR and railway service providers have been compromised potentially endangering lives and cargo – something the DA refuses to accept. Tolerating dangerous conditions for the sake of guaranteeing continued revenue streams is not an acceptable mandate and requires change.

Through regular parliamentary questions to the Department of Transport, the DA has monitored the degradation of safety standards over the past pre-Covid years noting the following trend:

  • Issued warning directives in the form of Manual Train Authorisations due to unsafe sections on the national rail has increased from 35 356 per month in January 2018 to 136 470 per month in July 2019. This means that on average per year, the opportunity for fines nearly doubled from 68 297 to 130 150.
  • Over this monitoring period a total of 1 895 641 alert orders were issued.
  • Over the same period RSR’s net cash flows from operating activities increased from R17 billion to over R44 billion.
  • Cash and cash equivalents of the last couple of years reflect an impressive increase from R300 million (2017/18) to R65 billion (2019/20). This, in stark contrast to the appalling service delivery to commuters and clients.
  • As consolation, glossy cover page prospectus-style safety reports are released annually, confirming what the every-day rail user experience and fear daily – a total of 3 392 operational occurrences (derailments, collisions, level crossing crashes and occurrences where people were stuck by moving trains) have been recorded during the last year.

Security-related incidents per million train km increased by 105%. PRASA experienced a 32% decrease in its operational tracks and a 75% decrease in passenger usage over the last 10 years while the Gautrain achieved an increase of 643% in operational tracks and a 41% increase in passengers over the same period.

While this railway safety revamp has a specific focus to change the current legislative framework, the DA stands firm on the position of a merger between PRASA and TRANSNET since more than R1 billion is exchanged between these two entities in cross-invoicing of shared platforms, rail sections and other equipment while everything belongs to the State.

Commuters and users demand three basic needs: safe, clean, and reliable train service.

It is clear that change is needed, and not just to legislation and frameworks but also to operational efficiency and managerial conduct. The Gautrain is a prime example of what can be achieved within a shared governance model where service delivery is the focus.

With the inclusion of rail, ultimately, cities and rural regional bodies should manage public transport while ownership can be retained nationally. In this regard the DA is committed to constructively contribute towards the needed changes and improvements.

Various opportunities for public and stakeholder input will be invited which, in the case of this Bill will include consultation within each province – something the DA encourages given the need and opportunity for improvement.