Was there political pressure on PRASA to reinstate the failed long-distance train service?

Issued by Dr Chris Hunsinger – DA Shadow Minister of Transport
17 Jan 2024 in News

Note to editors: Please find attached soundbite in English and Afrikaans by Dr Chris Hunsinger MP

The DA has submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) application to PRASA to request a record of decision that informed the reinstatement of its long distance train service despite lingering concerns about PRASA’s technical state of readiness.

With all the fanfare that accompanied the ill-fated launch of this train service in December 2023, it has since emerged that PRASA has quietly suspended its Johannesburg to Cape Town passenger long-distance train service. In addition, the Durban-Johannesburg train service has been scaled back and will now run monthly instead of weekly. The few train trips that were undertaken during this period ended before passengers could reach their destinations and had to be transported by bus.

While it is obvious that PRASA was neither ready nor technically capable of relaunching the service, the question that PRASA executives need to answer is whether this was an evidence-informed operational decision or whether PRASA executives were under some form of political duress when they took the decision?

It simply did not make sense to reinstate the long distance train service when neither PRASA nor Transnet had not undertaken significant restoration work on rail infrastructure damaged during Covid-19. If political pressure was exerted on PRASA executive to launch the service, South Africans deserve to know the individuals involved and their motivation for such interference into PRASA’s operational decisions.

Notwithstanding the fact that PRASA was not ready to re-launch the long-distance train service, the lives of passengers who took the train were placed at severe risk. With the first trip on December 8 2023 having to be completed by bus as cable theft made it impossible for the train to continue running, there is no telling how live wire cable hazards – that had been tampered with, could have impacted train cars.

The upcoming general election, and the threat of going under 50% in electoral support, has placed the ANC under significant pressure to try and do anything to claim false service delivery victories. When PRASA announced the reinstatement of the Johannesburg to Cape Town, the ANC’s Fikile Mbalula made a public spectacle calling it a ‘railway renaissance’. Three weeks later, that renaissance has dissipated and PRASA now claims it does not have reliable locomotives.

Be part of the mission to rescue South Africa, get help registering to vote at check.da.org.za