Commuter Rail Transport Crisis in Naledi Corridor: Report Back

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06 June 2001
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

6 June 2001

Chairperson: Mr JP Cronin

Documents handed out:
Draft Report on Commuter Rail Transport in Naledi Corridor (see Appendix)

The report-back emphasised security and the inconvenience of commuters and budgetary constraints. The discussion focused on the need for strong security at railway lines and co-operation between Metrorail and SARCC.

Committee member, Ms Mnumzana (ANC), led the report-back. She apologised for the delay in consolidating the report on the crisis in the Naledi Corridor and promised that as soon as the delegation members, Mr Abrahams, Mr Scheeman (who was overseas) and herself could come together, they would consolidate the report. Ms Mnumzana highlighted the following points from their visits:

- Between the 17 and 22 May 2001, 86 signal units along the Germiston rail way were stolen resulting in a total loss of about R100m to R120m. The brakes of some of the trains were tampered with.
- Vandalism and theft has caused delays in the metro rail schedule and this has affected commuters especially those going to work. As a result some of the commuters claimed to have lost their jobs due to their frequency of checking in late.
- When the signal units are dismantled trains remain stationary and commuters are robbed or the cargoes are hijacked.
- Metrorail believes that this is an inside syndicate sabotaging the operations of Metrorail.
- There was a high rate of suicide and accidents on the railway lines. Forty to forty-five percent of deaths on the railway lines were from suicide. Train drivers experienced stress as a result of witnessing such deaths.

In conclusion, Ms Mnumzana suggested that:
- there was a need to establish a commission to look at theft and vandalism on railway lines.
- there was a need to reinstate the railway police service.
- there was a need for research on railway suicides.

- there was a need for programmes to counsel train drivers.

Mr Abrahams continued with the report-back. He said that there were three problem areas affecting the operation of Metrorail in the region. These were institutional problems, safety and security problems and budgetary problems.

Regarding institutional problems, he said that there was no clear line between the function of Metrorail and the South African Rail Commuter Corporation (SARCC). There was lack of support from government departments. Crime and public hostility demoralised Metrorail staff.

On safety and security problems, he pointed out that the available security guards were not trained for their job. The community does not tolerate fences because for some (such as vendors and fare evaders) it obstructs easy access points to the station and for others it is dismantled and sold as scrap metal. Armed security staffers guarded workers while they erected fences. The revenue that was lost from fare evaders was estimated at R120m a year while the Wits Metrorail spent R75m on security alone.

He also mentioned that he had witnessed some informal settlements built right next to the rails and cables and he feared for the safety of the inhabitants.

On budgetary problems, he said that the main problem was that Metrorail often found itself having to fund infrastructure repairs and upgrades which in fact are supposed to be funded by the SARCC. However, the government has earmarked R100m for development of the national transport infrastructure and this will be spread over two years.

He concluded that the signal system was obsolete and needed to be changed. Further there was dire need for proper training of security guards and that there needed to be some temporary measure to remove informal settlement near train stations.

Mr Farrow wanted to know how train brakes were tampered with because that required some technical skills.

Ms Mnumzana responded that is one of the reasons Metrorail suspected that the vandalism and theft were an inside job.

Mr Slabbert strongly suggested that the railway police be re-deployed. He also stated that Metro rail and the SARCC needed to merge and form one body like the previous system.

One member asked why security guards are not trained and why the community is not educated about railways transport. He also asked if Mr Abrahams could give some examples of disagreements between Metrorail and SARCC.

Mr Abrahams said that these security guards are hired form security companies and most of them are not trained and they are the only pool of security guards so far. He added that government was looking at ways of regulation the rapidly growing security industry to deal with such problems.

Ms Ngcengwane commented that it was useless to erect fences under security guard because they will be vandalised again.

At the end the Chairperson made the following comments:
- Metro rail and SARCC had to have some regulation between themselves to avoid the confusion of institutional roles.
- There was a need for a dedicated public transport policing with intelligence capacity. This required learning from other countries such as Britain and USA.
- Security companies needed regulation.
- Copies of the report on the crisis in the Naledi Corridor should be sent to the SARCC and the Department of Safety and Security

Mr Slabbert interjected by saying that the Department needed more money from the Minister of Finance. Mr Farrow seconded him.

Ms Mnumzana said that such visits must continue in order to get a national picture. She emphasised that these visits should not be inspired by crisis alone but for development reasons.

Appendix 1
Draft committee report:
Commuter rail transport in Naledi Corridor, Witwatersrand Region 2001.05.28

The visit involved touring along kilometres of track in the Jacaranda, a special train used for on-site inspections and the tutoring of prospective train drivers. Officials from Metro-rail, including Messrs C Kinahan and Honey Mateya, obligingly accompanied the three delegates from the portfolio committee and provided clarity on several matters.

Committee members delegated to undertake the tour:
Ms Susan Mnumzama Mr Gregory Schneeman Mr Tommy Abrahams.

The tour revealed several serious and urgent sets of problems in the functioning of commuter rail transport in this region. These can best be classified as follows:
1. Institutional problems;
2. Problems around safety and security
3. Budgetary problems.
Although these problems are summarised separately, they all impact on one another.

1. Institutional Problems:
It is very obvious that the line drawn between the functions of Metro-rail and the South African Rail Commuter Association cannot be clearly drawn by the present agreement and this grey area in their authority just has to frequently cause overlapping and frustration.

The SARCC, as the asset owner, receives budget transfers from the DoT and is responsible for rolling stock and infrastructure. Metro-rail, a Transnet creation, receives annually declining contract payments from the SARCC to deliver commuter services and to attend to maintenance.

Metro-rail, by the nature of its service functions, interfaces with the customer and is held accountable by the public for the quality of the service.

Vandalism, theft, public hostility and a general attitude of entitlement, lack of support from other Departments of State and the age and poor condition of rolling stock and infrastructure all conspire to demoralise rail staff who amazingly continue clearly to love their occupation.

2. Problems around safety and security:
Metrorail Wits region is obliged to spend R75 million on private security. Security is required all over the region at all times for a host of reasons and, although the current provision is hopelessly inadequate, there will be chaos if it is scrapped without being replaced with a better substitute.

Eyes have to be kept peeled for fare evaders, who tend to turn quite hostile when caught out. Access to or from trains on many stations is an easy walk. Losses to fare evaders alone are estimated at Rl20m per annum.

Fences are not tolerated, because they obstruct access from any point to the other side of the line and to stations, restrain the little ones from playing on the tracks and are a deterrent to those who choose to pilfer and destroy. They also constitute a profit opportunity to those who deal in scrap metal.

Vendors also dislike fences, because they prefer to ply their trade on the station platforms and demand easy access. Unfortunately, their unbelievable legacy of litter often lodges in points and this sometimes causes a train to be diverted.

It may not be politically profitable for the relevant authorities to attend to people who create informal settlements that encroach on the railway line. However, it is immoral to allow people to grow accustomed to living and sleeping unperturbed in such perilous circumstances. Such settlements were observed at several points along the line we traversed.

It was observed that almost thirty heavily armed security staffers were required to guard over workers nervously trying to erect a fence between the line and one such a settlement. Loiterers moved freely along the sleepers.

The disruption and inconvenience caused for the commuter by the removal of even a short length of overhead cable is similar to an Escom power failure. Because it is practically impossible to guard every kilometre of cable day and night, Metro-rail is systematically changing the metallic composition of these cables which have to carry voltages of over 3 500.

Thieves, meanwhile, appear to have diverted their efforts to the signalling system. The effects of this change in tactics were felt by an estimated 350 000 commuters in the Wits region last week. To the credit of the Metro-
rail management, limited rail service was ingeniously provided and the service was restored the same day.

There are compelling reasons to contend that the disruptions have long passed beyond mere theft of railway metal. It is not far-fetched to conclude that the motive behind stopping trains, particularly Spoornet 5 goods trains, is connected with the hijacking of cargo. Another objective one could conjecture about is plain sabotage.

For these and other reasons, it seems obvious that the establishment of a specially trained, hard-nosed railway police unit, with powers of arrest and countrywide jurisdiction is long overdue. Such a unit should include people trained in the gathering of Intelligence.

3. Budgetary
Government has earmarked R7 billion for development of infrastructure as a whole in South Africa. The Department of Transport will receive R300 m, of which only R100 million will be made available for transport infrastructure, and this amount will be spread over two years.

A briefing by Mr J P van Niekerk of the SARCC on the occasion of an earlier portfolio committee visit revealed that the average age of rolling stock is 24 years and that the signalling system is ancient and obsolete. Unless an estimated RIO billion is pumped into infrastructure development his calculations gave commuter rail 15 years at most.

Our visit this time tended to corroborate Mr Van Niekerk's findings.

By the way:
The delegation gained a rare insight into the experiences of a modern South African train driver when a young man attempted suicide by confronting our train. The particular driver has had some grim experiences of this nature.


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