ATC190219: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Transport on its oversight visit to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) and The Railway Safety Regulator (Rsr), dated 19 February 2019



The Portfolio Committee on Transport (the Committee), having undertaken an oversight visit to PRASA and the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) on 31 January and 1 February 2019, reports as follows:


  1. Introduction

The country’s passenger rail system has been witnessing a spade of railway occurrences, the recent one having taken place on 8 January 2019 at the Mountain View Station in Pretoria where four commuters lost their lives, and more than 600 were injured. It was reported that two trains, one in motion and another one stationary, travelling along the same line between Mabopane and Pretoria collided near Mountain View Station, and in the process four commuters lost their lives and more than 600 were injured. There were reportedly approximately 1000 passengers on each train. The accident led to the temporary suspension of trains running between Pretoria, Mabopane and Dewildt.


The Committee conducted an oversight visit to PRASA and the RSR on 31 January and 1 February 2019. The objectives of the oversight visit were to visit the site of the Mountain View train crash, and to be briefed by PRASA and the RSR on the circumstances surrounding the Mountain View Station accident, as well get feedback on the findings by the RSR thereto.


Members of the Committee that attended the oversight visit were Ms DP Magadzi (Chairperson) (ANC), Mr A Seabi (ANC), Mr L Ramatlakane (ANC), Ms S Xego (ANC), Ms N Nolutshungu (EFF) and Mr M Shelembe (NFP). The committee support staff were Ms V Carelse (Committee Secretary), Dr S Ngesi (Committee Researcher), Adv A Nel (Content Advisor) and Ms P Mahlathi (Committee Assistant).

This report provides an overview of member’s observations and recommendations made during the oversight visit to the Mountain View Station crash site, the PRASA Braamfontein and Wolmerton Depots and Command Centres, as well as comments made by members during the debriefing meetings with PRASA and RSR Board members and officials.


  1. Visit to PRASA Nerve Centre, the Mountain View Train Station Crash Site: 31 January 2019

The Committee was briefed at the Kaalfontein PRASA Nerve Centre on the Chairperson of the Board’s communication to staff directly following the Mountain View Station accident as well as a briefing regarding the preliminary findings on the cause of the collision. The Committee was also briefed on steps taken by the entity to remedy the situation and to work towards eliminating these types of collisions.

The Committee was further briefed on the progress with the Modernisation project and rollout of signalling infrastructure for the Gauteng Region.

Following the briefings, the members were given a tour of the nerve centre and informed regarding plans to bring more lines onto command from the centre. They were also briefed regarding the monitoring of the electrical supply to the rail lines that is done from the centre and how this will be managed going forward once training of operators had been finalised.

Questions asked by members were answered by PRASA staff and those that were not answered would be responded to in writing.

During the afternoon, the Committee was given a briefing on site at the Mountain View Station were the 8 January 2019 collision occurred. Members had the opportunity to speak with awaiting train commuters and hear their concerns as well as ask officials questions of clarity regarding the collision.

Thereafter, the Committee visited the Pretoria North Command Centre (CTC) where the manual authorisation occurred for the two trains traveling on the line on which the collision occurred on 8 January 2019. The preliminary findings regarding the incident were that the driver had exceeded the recommended speed for trains operating under manual authorisation by traveling at 59km/h instead of 30km/h and that the driver had not adhered to stopping at a red signal prior to the collision. It was also determined that the Train Control Officer (TCO) and driver had miscommunicated the authorisation for the train on the line to the station. At the CTC, the members spoke with staff members and were informed that the working conditions were such that it raised concern with the members and could, in the view of the staff, have contributed to the miscommunication and lack of concentration on the day of the collision. Members were informed that staff work 12 hours per shift and that the CTC was not suitably equipped, citing the lack of sufficient chairs as an example.

At the Pretoria North Command Centre, members were taken through the process of how manual authorisations operate in the event of defective signalling systems. Members saw supervisors, as well as TCOs hard at work. Members were informed that TCOs work 12-hour shifts and members were of the view that the working hours for the TCOs warranted review given that they provide a fertile ground for human error to occur. One of the recommendations by members was that there is a need for the procurement of chairs for TCOs, as they currently discharge their duties while standing on their feet and are therefore prone to fatigue/exhaustion. Members also opined that effective supervision of TCOs could be enhanced through the procurement of phones with loud speakers with a view to recording data. Members further recommended the erection of cubicles for TCOs which should be partitioned with sound proofing or reduction devices so that TCOs would not disturb one another as they execute their duties.


2.1        Discussions during the debriefing meeting at PRASA House

Following the site visits, the Committee received a de-briefing at PRASA House in Hatfield. During this session, they received a presentation by the RSR on their findings after the Mountain View Station collision and their communication with PRASA on this matter since the incident. The RSR Board met on 10 January 2019 regarding the accident and a report on the matter was sent to the Minister, in which it was indicated that the RSR Board does not know what else to do regarding the lack of duty to care from PRASA as the cause of the collision found to be human error was not a first instance. They also made it clear to the Minister that they cannot only focus on the most recent incident but had to consider the state of rail safety in a holistic manner; bearing in mind, the last three incidents were severe. They further pointed out that there was a lack of implementation of findings due to the repetitive nature of causes of accidents and that the PRASA Board should account for this and give reasons for non-adherence to the safety recommendations. This report was sent to the Minister 3 weeks prior to meeting the Committee and the Minister had not yet responded due to his official duties and commitments that took him out of state. The RSR Chairperson, however, stated that the discussions they were privy to during the course of the day, with PRASA and the Committee, gave them hope towards seeing improvement in practices at PRASA; in the past they were not provided with any evidence of consequence management from PRASA following collisions and in this instance they were informed thereof.


2.2        Members observations

2.2.1     During the debriefing members asked further clarity seeking questions and requested that a full response in writing be submitted by PRASA to the Committee by 1 February 2019 as well as the audio recording of the communication on the day between the driver and TCO;

2.2.2     Members were of the view that if PRASA continues to operate in the current manner, more disasters will occur and wanted to know what solution PRASA was working on;

2.2.3     Vandalism was always said to be the excuse for the use of manual authorisation, but the members questioned whether this was purely due to the increase in theft of due to a poorly designed system and was of the view that an engineering solution was needed;

2.2.4     The question posed previously regarding whether PRASA had the required engineering skills and sufficiently skilled personnel was yet to be answered;

2.2.5     The agreement by the PRASA Board of 31 October 2018 was also yet to be presented to the Committee and the Board was asked what plans they have in place to remedy the maintenance and/or refurbishment programme in order to allow these to run concurrently while still running regular services;

2.2.6     Issues regarding the spares were raised and indicated that it goes hand-in-hand with the need to devolve functions to allow regions to acquire the required spare parts for faster service delivery;

2.2.7     The much relied on date of 2021 for completion of PRASA projects and rollout of new train coaches was put in question and the members wanted to know whether this was due to capacity constraints.  The question was also posed whether the underspending of the budget was linked to capacity constraints and what the implications were of not spending the budget; PRASA needed to indicate whether the funds would be regained or the modernisation plan be downscaled;

2.2.8     The progress made through the current Board performance was acknowledged. However, the question was also posed regarding what the Board will be able to show for the 12 months they had been in the office;

2.2.9     Members were of the view that communication must improve with PRASA stakeholders (specifically commuters) to reduce incidents of vandalism and that PRASA must adhere to the guidelines and policy that they have set themselves. Members indicated that there is a need to improve communication with commuters and communication devices on stations as well as between TCO’s and drivers;

2.2.10 Members were of the view that PRASA must ensure that staff are physically fit to perform their tasks and that the concerns raised regarding the long shift hours must be addressed;

2.2.11 Members welcomed the fruitful engagements with the unions and the proposed               installation of cameras in the driver cabins;

2.2.12 Members also questioned for how long the “oversight” by the High Court emanating    from the court order will be ongoing;

2.2.13 Members questioned the status of the Afro4000 locomotives and whether the testing of these will be finalised in order to bring them on-line soon. The decision to park these assets while there is a need to rent locomotives was questioned. Responses on this from previous engagements with PRASA had not been responded to and a response was requested again;

2.2.14   PRASA was reminded that the Committee made comments on the previously presented     turn-around plan, which was not suitable, and that PRASA had not presented a new plan to the Committee;

2.2.15   There was also a question regarding whether PRASA has a policy in place for determination of assistance given to family members of passengers who are deceased or injured during train collisions. The risk management at PRASA was also questioned;

2.2.16   Members questioned the National Department of Transport regarding their steps to do proper oversight over the entity as it is far behind with its strategic goal achievements; and

2.2.17   Members were of the view that refurbishment of trains must be sped up.


  1. Visit to the Wolmerton Depot and to the Braamfontein Depot: 1 February 2019

The Committee conducted site visits to the Wolmerton Depot and the Braamfontein Depot. One of the areas that were inspected by members at Wolmerton was the Electronics Room. In this regard, it was brought to the attention of Members that this room is currently not functional and that it has been in this state for 3 years. Members were, however, assured that plans are afoot to have it revived and that the target set is to have it operational in the next financial year (2019/20). It was also brought to the attention of Members that Ms Letsoalo was appointed a year ago to deal with electronic-related matters.

Another issue to which Members were alerted to was that at Wolmerton Depot, the Engineering Division is short-staffed. In this regard, Members recommended that PRASA’s Acting GCEO liaise with Transnet with a view to having the required engineers seconded to PRASA so that the facility (Wolmerton Depot) can perform optimally.


3.1        Members observations

3.1.1     At Wolmerton members noted concerns raised by staff regarding the facility and its ability to keep up with increased needs to refurbish vandalised trains instead of doing what it was designed to do (general maintenance);

3.1.2     Here members also learned of the lack of some tools of trade and minimal staff available at the Depot and a possible need to allow for better shift work planning that would ensure staff are at the Depot to work on trains that are in the yard and not have to wait hours for a train to come later in the day. Members also learned of equipment in the Electronics Room that has been non-functional for 3 years;

3.1.3     Members had sight of several of the new train sets parked at the Depot and accessed one of the new train sets as imported from Brazil. Members also had sight of the first train set to have been built at the facility in Dunnottar (Gibela) Plant. Members were informed of some challenges faced by PRASA when running the new sets in Gauteng, one such challenge example being the over eager use of the emergency communication tags/pulls that would often lead to the train stopping while it had to be reset. PRASA and RSR was asked how far they were with their testing of these trains;

3.1.4     Members questioned why 2021 was the target date for the roll-out of these sets in the Western Cape and insisted that a plan be developed to have these train sets operational in Cape Town by the end of March 2019. A short briefing was given of the issues regarding the Paarden Eiland Depot which form part of the delay; and

3.1.5     At the Braamfontein Depot, members had access to the Afro4000 locomotives, which were part of the dispute with Swifambo Rail Leasing.  Members questioned when these will be in use and how far the RSR were with their testing of these locomotives.


  1. Committee recommendations

The Minister should ensure the following:

4.1 The RSR final report on the 8 January 2019 collision and concerns emanating therefrom should be addressed by the Minister and PRASA in order to ensure that future occurrences of this nature are prevented;

4.2 PRASA should reconsider the working hours of TCOs and drivers as well as ensure that staff are suitably skilled, fit and equipped with tools of trade to best execute their work and reduce incidents of human error leading to accidents;

4.3 Depots used for refurbishment and maintenance to train sets should be suitably staffed and equipped to allow for faster turn-around times that would get trains back into commission. PRASA should consider the implementation, where possible, of shift work to allow for engineers to work on trains during off-peak times and periods when the trains are physically at the Depots;

4.4 PRASA should cooperate with RSR to ensure that all steps are taken, as soon as possible, to allow for the use of and running of the new train sets as well as the new locomotives. PRASA should urgently finalise the required service agreement related to the use of the AFRO4000 locomotives and start rolling out those locomotives as soon as possible. PRASA should also ensure that all locomotives paid for are delivered to PRASA following the finalised outcomes of the court cases impacting thereon and ensure that the ongoing discussions are finalised with Voslo (formerly Swifambo/Stadler);

4.5 The Department should work with the Department of Public Enterprises to bring in the assistance of Transnet skills where needed, such as seriously considering the possibility of secondments of Transnet engineers to serve at PRASA. Based on responses received during the oversight visit that the engineers’ training at the Transnet Academy takes 18 months, PRASA should dispatch those identified to receive training. The Department should also address any outstanding contractual issues between Transnet and PRASA that may affect PRASA operations adversely;

4.6 PRASA should report on a quarterly basis to the Committee on the number of, locations of and reasons for continued manual authorisations done by PRASA;

4.7 PRASA should ensure that the operations at the Nerve Centre (Command Centre) are in full operation as soon as possible. The Committee is of the view that the 2021 deadline for full operations at the centre is not acceptable and that this could be fast tracked, even if this means that PRASA must source the assistance of foreign skills; and

4.8 PRASA should deliver a full set of written responses to members’ questions within 24 hours after the adoption of this report by the House.


Report to be considered.



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