Fact-finding tour of railway stations: Committee report

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09 May 2001
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

9 May 2001

Chairperson: Mr. J Cronin

Documents handed out:
Draft Committee Report: Pretoria Station

Relevant document:
Final Committee Report: Pretoria Station, dated 23/05/01 (see Appendix)

The Committee did not adopt the Committee Report as the Committee is still waiting for the tabling of the Pretoria Station fire attack investigation. The Committee went through its draft report commenting on various aspects such as poor communication with rail commuters and poor management of the transport failure which had exacerbated conditions on the day of the fire attack on Pretoria Station.

The fact-finding mission to stations around Pretoria was the result of the recent fire attack on Pretoria station. The Committee's multi-party delegation of 13 members took part in this trip on 12 March 2001. They managed to meet with relevant stakeholders in visiting three major stations in the area: Mabopane Station, Wolmerton Station (Depot) and Pretoria Station.

The Chair noted that members of the delegation had also boarded Third Class coaches from Mabopane to Wolmerton station interacting with commuters about their frustrations regarding Metro rail services.

The Chair asked the Committee to go through the Report and welcomed any observations:

Mabopane Station
The Chair asked for a factual description of the conditions at Mabopane.

Mr. Farrow (IFP) pointed out that in Mabopane station there are bare electrical cables, which poses a danger to commuters. In addition the station is very filthy which is health hazard.

Mr. Abrahams said he observed that at Mabopane station there is poor station management and also there is a lack of funds to upgrade it. The Chair added that the North West side is poorly run.

Mr. Farrow said that at the station there is lack of communication: the public address system was not working and there are no timetables available.

Mr. Scheemann (ANC) noticed that there is no basic maintenance, which is one of the concerns raised by commuters.

The Chair pointed out that the Mabopane Station Manager conceded that there are no facilities for disabled people attributing that to a lack of funds to upgrade the station.

Regarding 3 (d) of the Report, Mr. Cronin pointed out that the public adress speakers were out of order due to theft and vandalism.

Regarding 3 (h) the Chair pointed out that commuters claim that Metrorail takes trains off the schedule without informing commuters.

Regarding 3(I) Ms Shilubane (ANC) said that the commuters spoke of security guards who provide no help to them, instead they merely harass commuters. Commuters had expressed fears about their safety.

Ms Shilubane added that commuters between Rustenburg and Mabopane felt neglected between because there is no organised transport and it is very costly for them to travel between the two areas.

Wolmerton Station Depot
The Chair pointed out that the Station Depot Manager claimed that cabling was the major cause of the problems. The manager indicated that vandalism on coaches is caused by commuter frustrations due to train delays. He mentioned that vandalism often occurs whilst the train is in motion and Metrorail/ SARCC do not have the capacity to employ enough security.

Mr. Fazzie (ANC) asked why Metrorail does not increase the police presence to stamp out vandalism. He suggested that Metrorail should bring back the Railway Police.

Mr. Scheemann (ANC) observed that there is a new program to upgrade doors and windows with new types of materials. He noted that train drivers do not have air-conditioners. Further the high numbers of suicides committed in front of oncoming trains has a bad psychological effect on drivers.

Regarding the shortage of drivers, the Chair pointed out that Metrorail had assured him that they are overcoming that with a two-year training programme.

Pretoria Station
The Chair noted that the delegation had been briefed on what had caused the fire attack on the station. It was claimed that a fibre-optic cable had malfunctioned on the day causing a standstill to trains and frustrating the growing crowds of commuters.

Poor communication and poor management had occurred. The Chair had established that Metrorail had not been able to communicate with the commuters over the loudspeakers. The Chair claimed that there was no backup communication and no alternative transport was provided.

Regarding the delegation's recommendations, the Chair emphasized that the Committee need to study and pursue those recommendations with regard to the process.

South African Rail Commuter Corporation
Mr. Farrow (IFP) noted that there are no funds to finance new projects such as renovations of the trains.

The Chair observed that it is clear that there is a major recapitalisation challenge and it is important that government prioritises the management of this process.

Mr. Scheeman (ANC) pointed out that there has been a lack of investment over the years.

The Chair pointed that the whole area of stations requires specialist skills: crowd control, communication and uniform training for public transport.

Metrorail needed to engage with the South African Police Service and co-operate with the Portfolio Committee on Safety and Security

The commuters wanted the Railway Police back and the Committee need to explore this option.

Ms Shilubane pointed out that there should be re-training for security guards because there is lack of control when dealing with large crowds of people.

The Chair pointed out that they need to do away with the bureaucratic dynamics of the current Commuter Forums. There is a need to develop dynamic Commuter Forums to listen to commuter frustrations and concerns.

Mr. Fazzie (ANC) said that the best for the Committee is to visit Commuter Forums and address them. The Chair agreed saying that as part of constituency work, the Committee could visit the Commuter Forums.

Mr. Scheemann suggested that the Committee could play a role by assisting some stations and getting publicity about the Committee visits. The Committee can make follow up recommendations and engage with commuters. Also the Committee must visit Mabopane Stations in about five months' time to see if the recommendations had been followed.

The Chair pointed out that another meeting would be held on the Report.

The meeting was adjourned.

Report of the Portfolio Committee on Transport on Visit to Pretoria Station, dated 23 May 2001:
The Portfolio Committee on Transport, having undertaken a fact-finding mission to Pretoria Station and other stations in the area, reports as follows:

A. Introduction
The Committee embarked on the mission to monitor the situation and establish factors that led to the fire at the Pretoria Station.

In accordance with its oversight function, the Committee took it upon itself to meet with stakeholders on the whole issue of rail commuters. A multiparty delegation of 13 members went on this trip, which took place on 12 March 2001.

The delegation consisted of Mr J P Cronin (Chairperson); Mr H Fazzie; Mrs B Tinto; Mrs S Mnumzana; Mrs D Ngcengwane; Mr T Abrahams; Mr G Schneemann; Dr W A Odendaal; Mr S Farrow; Ms H Malebana; Mrs T Shilubane; Mr R Ainslie; and Mr M Sibiya.

In order to examine these important issues, the delegation visited three major stations in the area:

1. Mabopane Station
2. Wolmerton Station (Depot)
3. Pretoria Station

The members were on board a third-class coach from Mabopane to Wolmerton station, interacting with commuters about their frustrations regarding Metrorail services.

B. Mabopane Station
1. Background
Mabopane Station is one of the busiest stations in the City of Tshwane. It was built as a modal integration station, with buses and taxis being feeders to the rail industry. The station serves approximately 120 000 train/bus/taxi commuters per day and serves as a link between the Pretoria CBD, Mamelodi and Johannesburg.

The management of the station is shared amongst two roleplayers. The Mabopane Transitional Local Council manages one area, which falls under North West, and Intersite manages the other area, which falls under Gauteng.

Small businesses on the Gauteng side are formalised, whereas on the North West side they are not formalised.

2. Conditions at Mabopane Station
According to the Mabopane Station Manager, Mr S Lekgari, most customers who are using the station on a daily basis reside in the North West Province. He alluded to the fact that the station is not customer-friendly, in the sense that there are no facilities for disabled people and no funds to upgrade the station.

The Committee observed the following:
(a) Besides the lack of funding, there are also signs of poor management on the North West side (e.g. filthiness, electric cables lying around and lack of basic maintenance).

(b) At the station, there are no train timetables on the notice boards, and the communication system is not effectively utilised.

3. Some concerns raised by commuters
(a) There is often ineffective communication between commuters and Metrorail.

(b) Partly due to theft and vandalism, trains are often late, and thus some commuters lose their jobs because they then are also late.

(c) Metrorail often does not announce when, and give reasons as to why, trains are going to be delayed.

(d) The announcement speakers at the station are often out of order.

(e) When asked about a commuter forum, they had no idea whether such a forum existed.

(f) The environment at the station is not hygienic.

(g) Commuternet - the station radio is not utilised to make announcements. Instead, it plays music all the time.

(h) Metrorail cancels trains and takes them off the schedule without informing commuters. As a result, trains that do run are very full, which leads to commuters being stranded and exposed to danger - the reckless ones hang on doors and between coaches.

(i) Commuters are not safe on trains - they are harassed by thugs and gangs.

(j) Security personnel are of no help either. Indeed, they are harassing commuters.

(k) Metrorail keeps on increasing the number of first-class coaches, which are always empty. More third-class coaches are in demand, because the majority of commuters use it.

(l) Security personnel re-sell tickets to incorrect destinations to desperate commuters. This causes more confusion and frustration.

(m) Trains are a health hazard, as they are not cleaned.

(n) Commuters state that they have very little options but to use the train, as it is the cheapest mode, compared to buses and taxis.

(o) Commuters noted that there is no train service between Mabopane and Rustenburg. They felt that a bus service should be provided, to avoid paying more transport fares.

While the Committee could not, in the time available, establish the veracity of all these concerns, delays and lack of effective communication were concerns raised consistently by virtually all commuters they spoke to.

C. Wolmerton Station Depot
Wolmerton Station Depot is a repair workshop dealing with short-term repairs and maintenance.

Mr Tinor Gabric, the Wolmerton Station Depot Manager, indicated that vandalism on coaches is caused by commuter frustration due to train delays. This is also a criminal and an economic activity.

He took members around the depot and showed them vandalised trains. He mentioned that this is a problem that happens on a daily basis, at the same time explaining that it is expensive and time-consuming to replace sliding doors, windows and seats. He stated that criminals who are involved in this, are after the aluminium, which is very expensive and fetches a good price with scrap dealers.

Mr Gabric indicated that the tendency of commuters to stand on the connecting sector not only endanger their lives, but it damages cables, which in turn results in train delays.

He mentioned that vandalism often occurs whilst the train is in motion, and Metrorail/SARCC do not have the capacity to employ enough security officers. He indicated that vandalism impacts negatively on the availability of trains and also affects their maintenance budget.

He also stated that a programme aimed at improving the material used for doors and windows is under way. Although expensive, it will reduce the rate of vandalism.

Mr Honey Mateya, the Metrorail Chief Executive Officer, stated that there are commuter forums - SANCO was involved when the forums were established. Metrorail is not participating in these forums, as they are fully commuter-driven. Metrorail assists in publicising forum meetings by providing flyers to commuters and by making announcements to radio stations.

Metrorail/SARCC admitted that there are problems with communication with commuters. There is a centralised intercom system, but it is not good enough. Mr Mateya indicated that Metrorail, together with SARCC, is working hard to improve the conditions on trains to make them more commuter-friendly.

Mr Chris Kilowan, Acting Regional Manager (Pretoria) Metrorail, mentioned that there is a shortage of train drivers, and this also contributes to the insufficient service they provide to commuters. At present, the challenge is that it takes 18 months to two years to train drivers, and the examination test is quite tough. However, they hope to overcome the backlog within two years.

There is also a constant problem of drivers on sick leave because of stress-related illnesses. This is as a result of many people committing suicide by throwing themselves in front of oncoming trains.

Another cause of driver shortage is the regulations and lack of planning of Metrorail. He also mentioned that a plan of using dedicated cellphones is under way to avoid train accidents, like the one in Tembisa.

D. Pretoria Station
Some delegates inspected the damaged part of the Pretoria Station. Mr Prentice, Intersite Managing Director, mentioned that it will cost R30 million to renovate the station. It is envisaged that by June all renovations will be complete.

Mr Prentice went on to say that an investigation is under way and that the Committee will get a preliminary indication as to what really caused the fire. He mentioned that Pretoria Station is a very busy terminus.

On the day of the incident, trains were delayed for over 40 minutes due to fibre-optic cable malfunction. The same malfunction affected the station's public address system, so there was no way of communicating to commuters what was causing the train delays. Eventually some 1 700 commuters gathered on the platform.

In reply to questions from the delegation, it was conceded that no alternative means of communication were contemplated, much less used.

A section of the crowd started vandalising shops in the station complex, during which the fire was started.

The Committee does not condone the act of vandalism, but it is probable that poor communication and commuter frustration contributed to the fire.

E. South African Rail Commuter Corporation
Mr J P van Niekerk, Executive Manager: Finance, SARCC, briefed the Committee on government funding of commuter rail. He noted the deepening crisis in the sector: The average age of rolling stock is now 24 years, and the signalling system is very old. Current subsidy commitments are well below what is required to sustain commuter rail, let alone expand services.

Mr Van Niekerk estimated that at current levels of investment there will be no commuter rail left in South Africa within 15 years.

He explained that the SARCC explored loan mechanisms, but that the Treasury is very sensitive about departments or government agencies trying to obtain loans independently.

F. Follow-up and recommendations
The Committee feels that this was a very brief visit, although a lot came out of it. There is a need to have follow-up visits to interact with commuters and management.

Many of the problems in the commuter rail system relate directly to inadequate funding over 20 years. However, while addressing the funding challenge, there are also immediate changes that can be carried forward.

The Committee comments and recommends as follows:

1. In the light of insufficient funding and lack of recapitalisation, the Department of Transport must develop an effective funding strategy for commuter rail to ensure the maintenance of existing services, and to make expanded rail commuter services possible.

2. Metrorail must pay more attention to effective communication with passengers, both at stations and on trains.

3. All stakeholders develop programmes to foster a sense of ownership among rail commuters so that the public takes a more active part in preventing vandalism and crime.

4. Consideration must be given (perhaps in co-operation with the SAPS) to the development of a dedicated and trained rail commuter security and safety division.

5. The lack of affordable integration between buses and trains must be addressed.

6. All stakeholders should look at ways of improving conditions at stations.

7. There is a need to develop active, dynamic and more representative commuter forums which can assist with educating commuters about safeguarding coaches and safety on trains.

8. Interaction is needed between the Department of Transport, the Department of Public Enterprises and the Department of Safety and Security on safeguarding the interests of stakeholders.

9. New and refurbished stations of a better quality will benefit commuters.

10. The station and train security personnel require special training, and there should be uniform security training for public transport.

G. Acknowledgements
The Committee wishes to thank the SARCC, Metrorail, Intersite and the SAPS for making this trip possible and fruitful.


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