The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) is sitting on a ticking time bomb.

The rail safety of passenger trains is deteriorating daily, to such an extent that it is only a question of time before we see yet another serious train accident, says Steve Harris, General Secretary of the United National Transport Union (UNTU).

According to Harris there has been an increase in train hijacking in Gauteng and Prasa keeps quiet about the trend. A train hijacking occurs when commuters force the train driver to continue a route unknown to him or her.

“The train drivers are trained on specific routes. Before they drive a new route, they undergo training. When commuters force a train driver to continue a route unknown to him or her, the train driver drives blind. They don’t know if there are signals or a turn or a steep curve on the route. When they must drive a train like this, they can easily derail the train which could result in fatalities,” says Harris.

The situation has gotten worse after the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR), the watchdog of train safety, allowed Prasa to operate trains with manual authorisation, but on the condition that the train does not increase its speed to more than 30 km per hour.

This was done to ensure train safety after the RSR found that human error was to blame for two collisions in the East Rand within six months when manual authorisation was used.

“Prasa is unable to replace all its broken signals and do away with manual authorisation due to the constant criminal activities and vandalism of the rail infrastructure. The Rapid Rail unit of the South Africa Police Service (SAPS) lacks the expertise and the crime intelligence to combat the copper theft by international crime syndicates who are targeting the rail infrastructure because it is such a soft target,” says Harris.

Although UNTU agrees with the RSR’s approach to put train safety first, the Union does not believe that the current situation must be allowed to continue.

“Due to the manual authorisation process, the trains are delayed from the word go in the morning. Where the last train is supposed to be in the yard in Vereeniging at 22:00 at night, it only comes in after 24:00. This is more than a two-hour delay.

“The delays contribute to the overcrowding of trains where commuters sit anywhere on the coach just too drive along, like the situation the notorious Central line in the Western Cape before UNTU brought the service to a halt on 8 January 2018.

“The constant delays make commuters furious as they are constantly late for work. This is when they attack train crews and even torch train coaches,” says Harris.

This situation can only be prevented if all the stakeholders take hands like they did in the Western Cape to stabilize the Central Line.

“We want to see the collective agreement signed for the Central line, implemented by Prasa throughout the country where SAPS members accompany train crews to safeguard them and where armed security is deployed on the platforms of stations and along railway lines to secure the safety of commuters and train crews,” says Harris.

Issued on behalf of UNTU by Sonja Carstens, Media and Liaison Officer. For UNTU Press Statements phone 082 463 6806 or e-mail

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