Rail Safety Regulator: Budget Hearings

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11 March 2008
Chairperson: Mr J Cronin (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee adopted the minutes from 4 March 2008 that included the proposed amendments that should be made to the Cross Border Road Transport Amendment Bill. The Committee discussed the issue on cross border permits once again, and suggested that the concept of cross-border travel should be kept in the Bill. However, the Committee had been concerned about rumours that the taxi associations were forcing buses to stop before the border, and would either force passengers to pay a fee to cross the border or force them from the buses. The MEC for Transport, Free State, stated that he was aware of these rumours but there was no proof. He suggested that this problem could not be addressed by the Bill but required changes to the regulatory framework. The State Law Advisor commented on the issue, and it was decided that this clause needed to be reformulated.

The Railway Safety Regulator then briefed the Committee on its strategic plans and budget over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework. Priorities included the development of a sustainable safety compliance regime. The Regulator proposed to finalise several Bills and issue safety permits for the new permit cycle. Its sustainable safety compliance regime would include safety audits and inspections and passenger rail interventions. The progress on the Gautrain was listed. The development of the 2010 World Cup standards was described. It was noted that there were budgetary constraints that had resulted in the current baseline allocation being inadequate. It would have to be revisited if the Regulator was to fulfil its mandate.

Members questioned how the current levels compared to international standards, whether there were any obsolete standards, asked how the safety regulations were monitored, and whether there was sufficient independence of the Regulator. The procedures were questioned, and the comparative procedures between investigations by the Civil Aviation Authority and this Regulator were interrogated. It was noted that the Regulator did not receive funding for investigations from the Department, but had to provide funding itself, and this issue was flagged for further consideration. Members also asked about noise and tunnelling for Gautrain, the technology for this, alignment with Metrorail, whether the Regulator provided any bursaries or training for its required engineers, when the Regulator expected amendments to the Act to be completed, and the other sources of revenue. It was suggested that attention be paid to the imperatives for a Regulator, and that the Regulator should consider involving the trade union perhaps to make informal inspections that would contribute to the monitoring duties, as also to consider extending its mandate.

Meeting report

Cross Border Road Transport Amendment Bill and reflection in Minutes of 4 March. The Chairperson checked the Minutes of the meeting on 4 March and said that he wanted to ensure that the changes suggested by the Committee were added in to the Cross Border Road Transport Amendment Bill. However, in checking through the issues, a problem had been identified.

The Chairperson mentioned that cross border permits were issued to vehicles that dropped off passengers either just before or at the border and picked up the other side. He suggested that the concept should be kept in the Bill. The Committee wanted to encourage seamless travel. He mentioned that the Committee had been informed of some local taxi associations that stopped busses just before the border and illegally forced passengers to pay a fee to cross, or forced the passengers off the transport and then made them pay a fee to cross the border.  He asked the MEC of Transport for the Free State to respond.

Mr Seiso Joel Mohai, MEC for Transport: Free State, replied that one of the issues in his province was the geographic proximity to the border. The matter could not be addressed by the type of amendment stated in the Bill. If the Committee was in agreement with the ‘1km’ rule then the improvement of transport hinged on the improvement of the regulatory framework. An illegal action should be taken up by law enforcement officials. The Department was aware of the rumours but did not have any proof that the taxi associations were actually performing these deeds.

The Chairperson agreed with the MEC and added that there were other internal issues that needed to be assessed.

Mr B Mashile (ANC) asked if it was possible to amend the National Land Transport Transition Act (NLTTA).

Mr Gideon Hoon, Principal State Law Advisor: Office of the State Law Advisor, replied that it was possible to do so if it was only consequential changes that were proposed.

The Chairperson decided that there were too many issues with the clause, and suggested that it should be rejected entirely. He suggested further that a new clause should be formulated,

The Minute was confirmed, but the substantive matter raised would be dealt with in a subsequent meeting.

Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) Strategy Plan 2008/09 to 2010/2011 presentation
Mr Mosengwa Mofi, Chief Executive Officer: Railway Safety Regulator,  listed the strategic priorities of the Regulator that included the development of a sustainable safety compliance regime. The Regulator wanted to strengthen the regulatory framework with the finalisation of several Bills and the issue of safety permits for the new permit cycle. It wanted to develop a sustainable safety compliance regime that included safety audits and inspections and passenger rail interventions. It had weighted the monitoring and evaluation of safety performance.

Mr Alfred Malpa, Chief Financial Officer: Railway Safety Regulator,  explained the progress on the Gautrain. He confirmed that the spacing was beyond the normal European spacing and that there had been engagement on track standards. The South African Police Services (SAPS) would be used to ensure security. They interrogated the standards from a process perspective. Construction safety permits were used for the construction trains. There was a proactive engagement with the provincial leaders and roles had been identified.  

Mr Mofi continued by explaining the development on the 2010 FIFA World Cup. RSR planned on the regional harmonisation of railway safety standards and international cooperation. It was  going to consolidate stakeholder partnerships to improve safety. It wanted a sustainable institutional capacity and management.

The RSR provided a summary of their revenue for the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) for 2008/09 to 2010/11. It also had provided a requested adjustment to the baseline for 2008/09 to 2010/11. The actual figures for the allocation per department were illustrated in bar chart form. The impact of the budgetary constraints had resulted in the current baseline allocation being inadequate and that Mr Mofi noted that it would have to be revisited in order for RSR to fulfil its mandate.

Mr S Farrow (DA) asked if there was any way that the current level of standards could be improved upon in comparison to the international standards.

Mr Merwyn Panzera, Safety Advisor: RSR, replied that RSR presently relied on the technical standards, SANS 3001. They were considered high-level standards and were used by Australia. Over the course of history Transnet Freight rail had developed their own standards and had taken it upon themselves to ensure that these were made available. There had been negotiation between Transnet Freight Rail and the SA Bureau of Standards to make their national standards available once the due process had been followed.

The Chairperson asked if the railway system had standards that were obsolete and perhaps problematic.

Mr Panzera replied that the standards themselves were not problematic but the issue could be that the standards were poorly maintained or that they were not adhered to properly.

Mr Farrow was worried that safety regulations were set by the operator and wondered how these were monitored.

Mr Panzera replied that the responsibility for safety was indeed with the operator. The standards used were predominately Transnet standards. If it were found that there was an inappropriate application of the standard then it would be addressed.

The Chairperson remarked that there was a danger that there was no independence of RSR.

Mr Mashile asked at what point would the regulator step in and deal with the lack of adherence. 

Mr Panzera replied that if a threat was deemed to be of immediate danger and the RSR thought that the action plan was unacceptable, then it would act quickly.

Mr Farrow noted that there were many accidents occurring. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had certain tests that ensured that the pilots were compliant. He asked how did the regulator ensure that the drivers were compliant.

Mr Panzer indicated that the human factor had about thirteen different sub-standards. If RSR had the resources then other standards could be issued, such as medical tests, to ensure that there was no substance abuse and so forth. Although RSR knew that operators had standards, it nonetheless wanted to integrate the standards and arrive at a single application that operated across the country. However, it was doing the best it could with the resources that were available, and had to take their resources into account.

The Chairperson wanted to know if it was true that there was a contingency fund was provided by the Department when the CAA investigated a crash, but not for the RSR.

Mr Mofi replied that it was true that the RSR did not receive funding for investigations from the Department, but had to provide funding themselves.

The Chairperson responded that the Committee should flag the issue.

Mr Panzera added that there were eleven inspectors who oversaw operations, and that meant that the RSR was severely understaffed in that regard.

Mr Farrow asked about the Gautrain and the impact of the noise levels and tunnelling.

Mr Panzera replied that they were aware of the noise issue and had to ensure that it was within limits. However, it was not really considered as a safety issue. RSR had not properly interrogated the issue of Bioducts. RSR had also tried to minimise the number of manholes in Centurion.

The Chairperson raised the issues of the limestone, and the geological arguments that were raised, and noted that the proposals put forward would ultimately add 900m to the distance between Johannesburg and Pretoria. The issue of alignment with Metrorail was also raised, and that it was thought that it could present some problems.

Mr Mashile remarked that a balance needed to be found.

Mr Farrow asked if there were any bursaries or mentorship programmes to train the required type of engineers.

Mr Mofi replied that RSR did not have any mentorship programmes. As a regulator in an oversight position they would require the correct competencies that had the appropriate amount of experience. 

Mr Mashile remarked that as much as RSR needed experienced officials they also required actual professionals. He felt that some balance should be found.

The Chairperson agreed but questioned from what type of organisation these skills could be gained. It did come down to sustainability and where rail experience was gathered.

Mr Mashile wanted to know how Gautrain were moving their required tools and rubble around.

Mr Panzera replied that until April there were no operating trains;  there was just construction taking place.

Mr Mashile was under the impression that the technology for the Gautrain was received from Europe. He asked how it had been ensured that South Africa was not left with technology that may have been abandoned in Europe.

Mr Panzera assured that Committee that the technology gained from Europe was not obsolete.

Mr Mashile asked about the qualifier that was placed in the presentation with regard to revenue generation whilst the RSR Act was being amended. He asked when RSR expected this amendment to be completed.

Mr Mofi replied that the Act had not made provision for revenue generation.

The Chairperson asked what other avenues were used for revenue generation.

Mr Mofi replied that besides the permits one of the other avenues used was the advice given to operators.

Mr Mashile asked if there were any transformational issues within the RSR.

Mr Mofi replied that in the Strategy Plan there was an equity plan and a specific focus on personnel transformation. The internal policies were transformational in nature, such as the Human Resource policy.

The Chairperson asked why was a Railway Safety Regulator necessary, and what kind of strategic imperatives it would have. The big operators were responsible for safety and had their own safety standards. Generally things were on track, considering the other huge crises in the country. He added that the RSR would receive funds, but not the amount that had been requested. He noted that there was an increase in incidents in transport rail, particularly on the security sector. He suggested that the RSR should consider involving the trade union perhaps to make informal inspections that would contribute to the monitoring duties. He suggested that the RSR should also think about extending its mandate.

Mr Farrow suggested that RSR look at the CAA model.

Mr Panzera replied that RSR recognised the Chairperson’s concerns and mentioned that he had differentiated between the various types of responsibilities that might require their expertise. He added that RSR would take the Committee’s suggestions into consideration. 

The meeting was adjourned.


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